Approaching the campus of Illinois State University on game night, it is hard to miss the signature glow of Redbird Arena illuminating the night sky. The glow comes from the roof, made of teflon coated fiberglass fabric, the same material as the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Although, the roof is supported by cables, not air pressure, which greatly reduces the risk of collapse.
When you approach the arena’s main entrance you will be greeted by a statue of Doug Collins and Will Robinson between Redbird Arena and historic Horton Field House. The nearly 25 year old arena was, at the time of its opening, the first non-circular cable dome in the world and has served as the glowing Crown Jewel of the Illinois State Athletics Complex ever since.
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Around the concourse there are 4 fixed concession stands and 4 specialty stands. The fixed stands offer your typical stadium food; the super dog for $3.50, nachos ($3.50), popcorn ($3/$4), and three sizes of Pepsi products with the larger two being served in souvenir cups ($2.50/$3.50/$4.50).
The one unique item would be a packet of Beer Nuts, a local favorite, for $3. There are 3 windows to each stand but you should still expect a wait if you go to buy snacks at halftime.
Avantis and Papa Johns each have a mobile stand with an Avantis Gondola or a Papa Johns pizza going for $4 a slice. My recommendation would be to visit the Grill stand behind section U. They serve hamburgers and sausages each cooked to order for $3.50. Top it off with grilled onions and peppers and a bottled Pepsi for $3.50. The hamburgers are easily one of the best sandwiches I have ever had at a sporting event.
The great feel of the building starts with the starting line ups, with the lights going out and the glowing roof enveloped in darkness except for the four spotlights rapidly circling the building. The introduction video easily rivals some that I have seen at various Big 10 and professional games.
The fans, pep band, and the Birdcage student section are rowdy and antagonistic making Redbird Arena an intimidating place for Missouri Valley Conference foes. It is one of the best basketball experiences I have had at the mid-major level. The building itself is extremely well maintained and it is a very comfortable and exciting place for fans. Another thing that never fails to impress me is the quality of halftime performances that visit the building. Several acts which I have seen at NFL games have visited Redbird Arena adding to the experience by keeping the fans on their feet even during breaks.
Since the arena is in the middle of the athletics complex, most options for food or drink are a few blocks away. Luckily though, we are on a college campus so there are plenty of them. My favorite would be the Pub II. It is slightly overpriced but the food is of good quality and it's definitely worth a visit. No visit to the Pub II is complete without ordering a side of their famous cheese balls and marinara sauce.
Other options can be found along Beaufort Street with several bars and restaurants geared at the students. Again this area can be difficult to navigate and parking can be an issue. Please pay attention to the street signs to avoid a parking ticket.
While the 10,200 seat arena is rarely more than half full, you get the big time college basketball feel. The fans are a rowdy yet dedicated bunch, often cheering at every basket and rebound even when the game isn't close. They frequently discuss the game and the previous play in between harassing the officials. The only downside I have seen occurs during official time outs when the cheerleaders often toss out mini basketballs to the fans and after a bad call these balls have a funny way of ending up on the court, resulting in technical fouls being assessed against the Redbirds. Even though the men's team has struggled the past few years, the fans still pour in to see the 'Birds which says a lot about the loyalty and dedication of the fan base.
Navigating the Uptown Normal area and the Illinois State University campus can be difficult even for a local, and especially so for a first time visitor. If you know where to look there is plenty of parking. My recommendation would be the Kingsley Jr. High lot directly south of the arena. Parking will cost you $5, but it is the best single game lot. Other parking can be found about 2 blocks away across Main Street, where it's a free parking garage but can be a rather long walk during a bitter Illinois winter. Once inside the arena there are four very large bathrooms, two for each gender. Even during halftime, you shouldn't expect a wait.
The 12-sided arena consists of an upper bowl and a lower bowl with the furthest seat from the court being only 220 feet away, so sight lines are great throughout. The view from the lower bowl is slightly better but not worth the extra expense. I would recommend shooting for an $11 dollar upper bowl seat in sections AA, BB, LL, or MM for the best half court views. If you are planning a trip in advance I would recommend checking on the athletics website as select games have $5 upper bowl tickets available if purchased in advance. That on top of the $5 parking and $9 for concessions will take the price to around $25, which is well worth the experience.
I thoroughly enjoy many of the halftime performances, as well as the tradition of singing the Redbird Fight Song after a win. One additional point for being such a unique and well maintained facility. Finally, one extra point for the dedication by the athletics department in maintaining the history with the trophy cases lining the concourse, the banners hanging from the rafters, the statue outside, and Doug Collins Court.
Redbird Arena in Normal, Illinois is a glowing beacon of basketball in the center of the state. The Teflon-coated roof serves as the night light of Illinois State University when there's a game in the arena.
Outside the main entrance, fans will find a sculpture commemorating the teams of the early 70's that featured star guard Doug Collins, and the first African-American head coach in Division I college basketball, Will Robinson. The focus on these two figures continue inside as you will find banners hanging in honor of each, and the floor has been dubbed Doug Collins Court.
Redbird Arena is my home arena and the home of Illinois State Redbird basketball and volleyball. But I am going to try to be as unbiased as possible. At the concessions stand you are not really going to find anything besides your typical hot dog, Pepsi, and chips except for Beer Nuts which is a locally owned and operated company in Bloomington-Normal. A trip to Redbird Arena would not be complete with out trying them. The fans are always rowdy and clap for every basket, rebound, and steal. Parking is probably the most difficult for someone who does not know the area well. But there are several decent places around and the further away lots have shuttles leading to them. The most unique part of redbird arena would have to be the roof. Made of Teflon coated fiberglass it puts off a unique glow on game night. The arena seats 10,200 with seating in an upper and lower bowl. The arena is 12 sided and when it opened in 1989 it was the only cable dome in the world and the first non-circular cable-supported dome in the world. Anyone who is a fan of college basketball & the Missouri Valley Conference should make a trip out to Redbird Arena.
102 N Linden St
Normal, IL 61761
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Normal, IL 61761
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