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Official Review by Brian Merzbach, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Webster Bank Arena, located adjacent to The Ballpark at HarborYard, is a perfect sized arena for mid-major college basketball. Home to the Fairfield University Stags, it seats about 9,000 for basketball. On two occasions (2007 and 2011) it has hosted the MAAC Tournament, so it certainly can be considered one of the best arenas in the MAAC. While the arena is nice, because it is located off campus, the atmosphere for college basketball games is not always the best. This reviewer would prefer to see all college teams playing on campus, though I do understand the lure of playing in a "big time" arena.
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".
For an arena this size, the concessions are a bit of disappointment. The standard arena fare is offered (hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels), but not much else. Beer is also served, which is something that not many of the MAAC arenas offer. Prices here are on the high side, as can be expected from a bigger arena that is located off campus.
You would expect a lively atmosphere with an arena of this size, but that is not usually the case. For both Fairfield home games and MAAC tournament games, the atmosphere has felt a bit stale. The student turnout is weak and those that do turnout are not always well behaved. On at least one occasion Fairfield students were yelling vulgarities at the opposing team and had to be repeatedly told to stop. This is something that is almost never seen at a college arena. The problem here is that the arena is located off campus, about 10 minutes away, so it is not always easy for students to get there.
The arena itself features just a single level of seating so all views of the court are pretty good. One strange aspect is that the configuration for basketball (at least Fairfield games) is off-center. The court is actually pushed towards one end of the arena and is not centered with the seating areas. So just because it looks like a section should be at mid-court, it doesn't mean it will be. Up until the recent addition of a four sided scoreboard there had only been basic scoreboards on either side of the arena. All the seats are of the chair-back variety, making for a comfortable setting.
Webster Bank Arena is located directly adjacent to The Ballpark at HarborYard in a rather industrial section of Bridgeport. The neighborhood is certainly not the best, though has improved since the arena and ballpark first opened. That said, there really isn't much to do in the immediate neighborhood of the arena. Downtown Bridgeport is just a short walk away as Main Street starts after crossing the I-95 underpass. There are some restaurants on Main Street as well the Barnum Museum.
As mentioned already, the location of the arena off-campus is not really conducive to a large student turnout. The Stags usually average around 2,000 fans per game, which makes the arena feel pretty empty most nights since it means there are 6,000+ seats that are not filled. The community support is good for a MAAC level team, though not up the level of Siena in Albany. The fans that show up seem into the game, though as already discussed the students can be a bit on the rowdy side.
The arena is very easy to get to it as it is located right off of I-95 (exit 27) and Rt 8 (Exit 1). There are two large surface lots as well as a parking garage, though the parking fee is a bit steep ($10). Other options for getting to the game include Metro-North, which has a nearby stop, and the Port Jefferson Ferry for those coming from Long Island. While the city of Bridgeport doesn't have the best reputation, they have made accessing the arena very easy and very safe. Also, there is always plenty of cops around directing traffic.
Bathrooms are located around the concourse which encircles the entire arena. For such a new arena, I was actually surprised by how small some of the bathrooms were. If you need to use them during halftime or after the game, expect a line.
As can be expected from an off campus arena that hosts a professional team, prices are a bit on the high side. While ticket prices are less than $20, they are still on the high side for this level of basketball. Probably only Siena in the MAAC has higher ticket prices than Fairfield. Also, parking will set you back a ten dollar bill which seems very high for a college venue. At least every seat in the arena is a chair back with a good view of the court, so you certainly won't feel like you are being ripped off.
The concourse area is one of the nicest I've seen at a mid-size arena. It is bright, spacious, and in no way feels sterile like concourses do at many arenas. The Stags also boast probably the best cheerleading and dance teams in the league.
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