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Welsh-Ryan Arena

Evanston, IL

Home of the Northwestern Wildcats



Welsh-Ryan Arena (map it)
1501 Central St
Evanston, IL 60208

Northwestern Wildcats website

Welsh-Ryan Arena website

Year Opened: 1952

Capacity: 8,117

There are no tickets available at this time.


Local Information


Old Venue Getting NU Look

The bar is being raised once again for college basketball venues in Chicagoland as Northwestern announced a $110 million overhaul of Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Welsh-Ryan Arena renovation will see construction begin at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 basketball season with completion slated for the Fall of 2018. The updates and improvements will include modern day amenities such as new seats with chair backs replacing the current and uncomfortable wooden bleachers which are cramped and lack adequate legroom. Wider concourses will also debut, alleviating the congested and clogged small hallways currently in place. These improved concourses will feature new concession areas with new food and drink offerings. New and improved restrooms will also double the amount of facilities available. Other upgraded features include a large lobby, a new ticket office, new locker rooms, new offices, and expanded court space. When the 2018-2019 basketball season tips off Northwestern will finally be playing in a facility that is on par with the rest of the venues in the Big Ten.

Originally known as McGaw Memorial Hall when it opened in 1952, Welsh-Ryan Arena was renamed in 1983 after it was renovated. The arena was named after Patrick Ryan and Robert Welsh Sr., who were the principal donors for the renovations. The outside of the arena still features the name McGaw Memorial Hall.

There is a certain charm to attending a game at Welsh-Ryan Arena in this final season prior to renovations however the planned revitalization will be significant in order to compete in the ever expanding Big Ten.


What is FANFARE?

The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:

  • Food & Beverage
  • Atmosphere
  • Neighborhood
  • Fans
  • Access
  • Return on Investment
  • Extras

Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".

Food & Beverage    3

The concession selections at Welsh-Ryan Arena are a little better than average. The usual suspects are present for prices that are to be expected (pizza $6.50; hot dogs $3; popcorn $4; soda $5). Coca-Cola soft drinks are the soda products that are available, and there are no alcohol sales in the arena. There are also a few items that may pique your interest.

You can find Polish sausages, Cracker Jack, nachos, Italian beef sandwiches, Dippin' Dots, and even chili. If you are hungry you will do okay at Welsh-Ryan, but you won't be blown away.

Atmosphere    3

In its current state Welsh-Ryan Arena is an old barn. The architecture on the outside is fairly grand, with the building featuring both the McGaw and Welsh-Ryan name and ivy on the walls. It is also very close to the Northwestern Campus, so you have that college feeling before you even enter the building. Ryan Field, home of the Northwestern football program is right next door.

Upon entering the arena, there is a very small concourse. There is a table and few racks where you can buy your Wildcats merchandise, but there is not a ton of space to move, so you won't want to shop for too long.

When you enter the seating area you will notice the age and lackluster appeal of the building. With the majority of seating consisting of old wooden bleachers that are situated entirely too close together, allowing for zero leg space, they are perhaps some of the most uncomfortable seats in any facility. Upon selecting your seating, make sure you do your research and choose wisely. With the low capacity of Welsh-Ryan Arena, they have filled every possible piece of real estate with some sort of seat or bench.

Some of these seats do not offer a great view. The seats in the 100 north, east and west sides as well as the north side 200 seats are all wooden benches. Although the chair back seats are older and also do not offer a ton of legroom, they are well worth the extra money. During the game, fans are regaled with the Northwestern pep band and messages on the scoreboard.

Neighborhood    3

Mustard's Last Stand is a typical Chicago Vienna Beef stand serving up hot dogs and hamburgers, and is a favorite of many visiting sports teams. If the line isn't too long, I would definitely recommend a stop into Mustard's Last Stand for a Chicago Style dog and some fries. The memorabilia on the walls helps to set the perfect tone. There isn't much else in the immediate vicinity of Welsh-Ryan Arena.

In downtown Evanston there are plenty of places to park and an ever-changing array of restaurants. Smylie Brothers Brewing Company offers a great barbeque inspired menu to go with their in house brews, and Temperance Beer Company is another local brewery with a taproom to try all of their unique brews. Downtown Evanston is most easily accessible to the CTA Purple Line via the Davis stop while Welsh-Ryan Arena is a quick walk from the Central Purple Line stop. Walking through Evanston is very comfortable and safe and can be very scenic, especially if you take the lakefront path through campus.

If you are staying in Evanston, and want to avoid the huge prices of the hotels in downtown Chicago, then I recommend the Hilton Garden Inn (although still fairly expensive, but less so compared to Chicago rates), which is just across from the large movie theatre on Maple Avenue.

Fans    3

Attendance at Northwestern games is a bit up and down. For most non-conference games the attendance is between 5,000-6,000. A capacity crowd can be found for many conference games, especially if the Wildcats are playing Illinois or Wisconsin. The student section has some life, but by no means should they be compared to some of the better student sections in the country. It must be noted that Northwestern Athletics does compete with a ton of sporting options in nearby Chicago.

With many alumni of almost all of the schools in the Big Ten in the Chicago area, you can count on a good contingent of supporters for the visiting team at each game during conference play.

Access    2

Getting to Evanston and Welsh-Ryan Arena is not a problem. Evanston is located just north of Chicago, and a nice drive along Lake Michigan can be had if you are heading north from the big city. Evanston is a fair distance from I-94 and Highway 41, so be prepared to travel through town if you are going by car.

Public transit is also an option, taking the Purple Line train and getting off at the Central stop. From there your walk is a little less than a mile.

There is sufficient parking around the arena for a price, and you can look for parking on the street also.

Inside Welsh-Ryan Arena, you will definitely find it challenging to get around. The concourses are very snug and there is not much room in the main entrance. There seems to be only two main washrooms with the men's on the west side and the women's on the east. Washrooms are really tight, so be prepared to wait.

Return on Investment    3

Northwestern basketball can be lots of fun. The ambiance is neat and Big Ten basketball is among the best in the country. Ticket prices for the Wildcats run $30 for almost all seats available for single game purchase, but you may also want to consider the secondary market. Concession prices are what is expected and parking prices are not terrible. Unfortunately, Northwestern basketball is typically at the bottom end of the division, so choose the opponent for the Wildcats wisely as it can make a significant difference in the overall game experience.

Extras    1

An extra mark for the pep band, which is one of the best bands that I have heard, playing a very modern and widespread playlist.

Final Thoughts

Going to see the Northwestern Wildcats is a lot of fun. If you are in the Chicago area and decide to see the Wildcats, step back and think for a moment. This school is competing with schools that are much larger than they are, in arenas that are much larger than theirs. Still, the Wildcats give it that old college try. However the facilities will step up into the big leagues when the 2017-2018 season begins.

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Crowd Reviews

The Old Gym at Northwestern

Total Score: 3.00

  • Food & Beverage: 2
  • Atmosphere 4
  • Neighborhood: 3
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 4
  • RoI: 4
  • Extras: 1

The first thing you need to know about Welsh-Ryan Arena is that it is not an arena. It's a gym. I hope you understand that this distinction is a very good thing. You immediately feel the intimacy, and you know there is no bad seat. This cozy home of the Northwestern Wildcats seats 8,117 and has been their home since 1952

The Good Old Days

Total Score: 3.71

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 4
  • Neighborhood: 4
  • Fans: 4
  • Access: 3
  • RoI: 4
  • Extras: 4

In Evanston Illinois, A cozy little suburb of Chicago you will find Welsh-Ryan Arena home of Northwestern Wildcat Basketball, Volleyball, and Wrestling teams.
Having only been to Welsh-Ryan for the Big Ten Conference Wrestling Championships I can't really speak for basketball but over the course of the 2 day event I feel I got a pretty good feel for the place. Consisting of a lower level, mezzanine section and upper section Welsh-Ryan Arena will really give an intimate and up close feel for the game. Not being a huge arena there is really no bad seat, but I would strongly recommend paying a few extra bucks for a chair back seat. The bleachers are very old and there is not a whole lot of room on any side. For a relatively small university Northwestern fans really come out in numbers to support their Wildcats and are very much into the game. As far as concessions go there is nothing unique except for a few ice cream specialties but the most of the items are overpriced compared to other arenas. So I would recommend taking a ten minute drive downtown to eat. However they do have souvenir cups which I think are always an inexpensive keepsake from the trip. Parking is an issue being surrounded by campus buildings there are only 2 lots so you might want to be prepared for a walk or come early to find a decent place. For a team that hosted the first NCAA Basketball Tournament it must be extremely frustrating to have never been in it. Due to the location of Northwestern many Big Ten schools will have a good showing at Welsh-Ryan for away games. Another problem is finding bathrooms. There are not very many in the arena I think only 2 on each side in the lower part and one on each side in the mezzanine level so I would suggest going before half-time or being prepared for a wait. They have a 4 sided center hung scoreboard with display and a scoreboard on the wall on either side of the arena. It really is a neat and historical arena in a beautiful old town on the campus of a prestigious university and should be on the bucket list of any Big Ten or NCAA basketball fan.

Welsh-Ryan Arena

Total Score: 3.14

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 4
  • Neighborhood: 3
  • Fans: 4
  • Access: 2
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 3

In 1939, the first ever NCAA Basketball Tournament was held on the campus of Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. The tournament was held in Patten Gymnasium, which is no longer standing. While that certainly gives Northwestern a piece of NCAA Tourney history, there is little else to boast about in that regard. The basketball team has NEVER earned a berth into what is now known as "The Big Dance," and has not won a share of the Big Ten title since 1933.

Welsh-Ryan Arena is an old barn of a gym, and the second oldest arena in the Big Ten Conference. What it lacks in comfort and amenities, it makes up for with charm. This is a great old gym, and well worth a trip to see a game.

The arena is located right next to Ryan Field, home of the Northwestern Wildcats football team.

Little Fish in a Big Pond

Total Score: 3.14

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 4
  • Neighborhood: 3
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 2
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 4

To those not close to Northwestern University, it has a reputation for a few different things. For many it is simply the school that ESPN personality Mike Wilbon of "Pardon the Interruption" went to. For others it is that school where some of the athletes are attempting to form a union for student athletes. For many, Northwestern is the only BCS school that has never been to the NCAA Tournament. If you step back and think about it, Northwestern is really a little fish in a really big pond.

Northwestern is part of the Big Ten Conference, one of the oldest, richest and most prestigious athletic conferences in the NCAA. They are a charter member of the conference which was established in 1896. With an enrollment of almost 15,000 students, Northwestern is by far the smallest school in the Big Ten. With a capacity of just over 8,000, Welsh-Ryan Arena is the smallest basketball facility in the Big Ten (at least until Rutgers joins later in 2014-2015). Knowing the amount of money and influence that the Big Ten wields, it is clear that Northwestern is an underdog in this conference, especially in "revenue" sports like football and basketball.

Originally known as McGaw Memorial Hall when it opened in 1952, Welsh-Ryan Arena was renamed in 1983 after it was renovated. The arena was named after Patrick Ryan and Robert Welsh Sr., who were the principal donors for the renovations. The outside of the arena still features the name McGaw Memorial Hall.

At the corner of Wildcat Ally and Walker Way, you may not find a program with a long history of success, but you will find a great experience in a classic arena that is worth your time, despite what the numbers may show.

Charming or Antiquated Welsh-Ryan Arena

Total Score: 2.86

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 3
  • Neighborhood: 3
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 2
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 3

Northwestern University men’s basketball program is the only power conference school that has never been to the NCAA Tournament. Now it is common knowledge that recruiting is the difference between success and failure when broaching the subject of college sports; and it is understandable that some institutions such as Northwestern have academic hurdles for admission that make recruiting more difficult. However, a close second to recruiting are facilities. The quality of facilities can go a long way in helping a heavily recruited student athlete make a decision on which school to attend. When it comes to facilities at Northwestern, it is fair to say that they are falling behind other power conference college programs. Basketball specifically plays in one of the most antiquated facilities in all of college basketball in Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Originally known as McGaw Memorial Hall when it opened in 1952, Welsh-Ryan Arena was renamed in 1983 after it was renovated. The arena was named after Patrick Ryan and Robert Welsh Sr., who were the principal donors for the renovations. The outside of the arena still features the name McGaw Memorial Hall.

There is a certain charm to attending a game at Welsh-Ryan Arena, but it is absolutely a building that has seen its better days and is in desperate need of significant renovation or replacement in order to marginally compete in the ever expanding Big Ten.

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