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Official Review by Steven Burke, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Missouri Valley Conference is synonymous with college basketball, and while not one of the more well-known programs in the venerable conference, the Illinois State Redbirds provide a great game experience in central Illinois. Opened in 1989, Redbird Arena is a 10,200-seat facility on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, IL. Redbird Arena is also home to the ISU women’s basketball team as well as the women’s volleyball team.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Redbird Arena has the usual items in reference to food and beverages. The concourse is lined with permanent concessions stands all featuring the same basic items such as hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, polish sausages, candy, and soft drinks. Prices range from $3-$4 for entrees, $2-$4 for candy and snacks, and $3-$5 for beverages.
The inside of the concourse has several free-standing specialty options. A Mexican inspired stand serves nachos and walking tacos ranging $5-$7, the Papa John's stand serves individual pizzas all costing $7 with choices of cheese, sausage, and pepperoni. All of the permanent concession stands on the concourse accept cash or credit cards, while all the specialty stands only accept cash so plan accordingly.
The atmosphere at Redbird Arena has improved in recent seasons as one of the great players in Redbird history, Dan Muller, has returned as head coach and reinvigorated the fan base. A renewed interest from fans along with aesthetic upgrades has kept Redbird Arena competitive with other mid-major venues.
The die-hard basketball fans are rewarded with an upgraded video scoreboard above center-court along with new ribbon boards spanning the upper deck façade along both baselines. The ribbon boards track individual player stats while the center-court scoreboard keeps track of the points, game clock, and team statistics.
For families attending games, a variety of contests during team and media timeouts keep the crowd excited and involved. Overall Illinois State does a great job creating an atmosphere that is welcoming to all in a town where the Redbirds are the highest level of entertainment.
Redbird Arena is located on College Street in an area of campus that houses many of the ISU athletic facilities, providing a real sense of being on a college campus. As for the neighborhood it mostly consists of a mixture of university buildings. However in the Bloomington-Normal area you are never far from retail or food and beverage options. Many chain options are available in the immediate area and you will drive past most of them on your way into town.
A few popular destinations in the area that aren't of the chain variety include Avanti's, Schooners, and Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works. Avanti's is an Italian restaurant, while Schooners is a sports bar. Schooners is famous for its deep fried pork tenderloin sandwich, which is so large that they ask you how many buns you would like with it. Destihl has become fairly well known in Illinois in recent years for their beers including their wild sour series.
The student section at Redbird games is pretty lively, many students are dressed in crazy costumes and carrying giant cutout heads of the players and coaches that have become so popular in recent years in college basketball. The student section is located behind one of the baselines as is customary in many college basketball settings and they do their part to rattle the visiting team. The students create an intense raucous atmosphere, and are into the action on the court the entire game. The students are located right next to the pep band and the two seem to do a good job feeding off of each other to create a great college basketball environment.
The Redbirds also seem to have a dedicated group of fans from the community. Some are no doubt alumni, but others are just fans of the game. In this area of central Illinois entertainment choices can be limited and that appears to work to the benefit of Redbird basketball as they are the main show in town.
Parking in the vicinity of Redbird Arena is plentiful and affordable with some lots even being free. While you may have to walk a few blocks from one of the free lots, you can't beat the price. The school does offer free parking with shuttle service from lots near the ISU golf course as well.
While leaving the area around Redbird Arena is generally quick and easy, larger crowds can create a small traffic jam while leaving. Remain patient however as attendants do a good job of directing traffic while vehicles are leaving.
The Redbirds host some high quality opponents in the Missouri Valley Conference and offer a great return on investment. Lower level tickets range from $22-$25 depending on the opponent and all lower level seats provide an excellent view of the action.
Upper level tickets range from $9-$14 for adults and $6-$9 for children under the age of 12. While all of the seats in the upper level have a great view of the court there are some issues with viewing the new ribbon boards. If you are an intense follower of the action on the court and keep an eye on individual player statistics such as points and fouls be aware when choosing a seat in the upper level. The new video board above center court obscures your view of the ribbon board if you are seated behind either baseline. If seeing these statistics are important to your enjoyment of the game look for a ticket in the lower bowl or on the sides of the upper bowl.
An extra point for the school and their understanding of the community involvement in athletics. Recently the school worked out a deal with Heartland Community College, allowing Heartland students to attend Redbird basketball games at a discounted ticket price. Heartland, which doesn't have a basketball program, has many students from the local area that grew up Redbird fans and this agreement allows them to enjoy the games at an affordable cost. The agreement also allows the Redbirds to sell more tickets and connect with the community so it is truly a win-win situation.
Another extra point for the school keeping their connection with former #1 draft pick and the greatest player in program history, Doug Collins. The Redbirds play on Doug Collins Court and there is a statue outside Redbird Arena featuring Collins and his coach, Will Robinson. All programs need to know and celebrate their history while looking to the future.
One last extra point for the unique Teflon roof of Redbird Arena, it provides unique lighting for games and also separates the interior of the building from some other sterile arena interiors.
Member Review by paul
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.
Member Review by GOILSTU12 on Apr 21, 2011
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.
Member Review by Daniel Armstrong on Feb 27, 2012
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.
Member Review by Chris Patton on Jan 30, 2014
In 2014, Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University turned 25 years old. On January 11th, 1989, Illinois State defeated Chicago State 71-70 to christen the on campus facility. On January 11th, 2014, the Redbirds took down another Chicago-based team, Loyola (IL), 59-50 to send the party guests home happy.
The Redbirds have a solid basketball history, but haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1998. The crowds have decreased over the years from the packed houses that watched current head coach Dan Muller play for Kevin Stallings on back-to-back conference champions in the mid 90’s.
Member Review by chitownmedical on Feb 21, 2016
Although I am an Illinois alum and love Assembly Hall at U of I (now State Farm Arena), Redbird Arena is the best in the state for college hoops by far. Not a large as U of I's expansive "dome", but Redbird has a charm and warmth that makes you feel on top of the game. It reminds me of the glory days if college hoops- great fans, loud atmosphere, fun student section, and just a nice, cosy arena that is well maintained. U of I, SIU, and Bradley would be my next 3 choices in the state.
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