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  • Writer's pictureGregory Koch

Bender Arena - American Eagles

Photos by Gregory Koch, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Bender Arena 4400 Massachusetts Ave Washington, DC 20016

Year Opened: 1988

Capacity: 4,500


Fly, Eagles, Fly

Bender Arena is located on the campus of American University in Washington, D.C., and is home to the Eagles’ basketball teams as well as the volleyball and wrestling teams. Named for Howard and Sondra Bender, whose donations helped fund the arena, Bender opened in 1988 and has served as the Eagles’ home venue ever since.

Special guests who have attended games at Bender include various diplomats from the nearby embassies, who participate in the annual Embassy Night at Bender, and then-First Lady Michelle Obama, who attended a women’s basketball game in 2014 to watch her niece play for the visiting Princeton Tigers.

As for the Eagles themselves, they have competed in the Patriot League since 2001, when they left the Colonial Athletic Association. The men’s basketball team has made the NCAA Tournament three times, including consecutive appearances in 2008 and 2009, but has yet to win a game in the Big Dance.

Food & Beverage 5

The concession stands at Bender Arena are run by local restaurant Gregorio's Trattoria and offer a wide range of concessions. Prices are high but the food is good quality and well worth it. Three different kinds of subs are available for $12 each - Italian sausage (with peppers and onions), meatball parmesan, and cold Italian.

Chicken tenders with chips are $12 as well, while a hot dog is $6 and a veggie dog is $7. Caesar salad wraps are $7, or you can add grilled chicken for another $4. Pizza slices are $4.50 for cheese or $5 for pepperoni and are pretty large - one might be enough for a person and two almost certainly would be. A jumbo soft pretzel (and we do mean jumbo, it's bigger than the plate it comes on) is $9, popcorn is $5, chips are $3, and bottled water and canned soda are also $3.

The lines can get quite long at times so we recommend getting food early if possible.

Atmosphere 3

Walking through the entrance or taking the elevator down from the parking garage will put you in the newly renovated lobby of the American University Sports Complex, a multi-story building that includes not just the basketball arena but a student recreational facility, a swimming pool, and various offices. Just through a set of doors from the elevator area is the ticket window, and from there you will need to walk down a hallway and through another set of doors to get into the arena itself.

Once inside, you will find chair backs on both sidelines and risers behind both baskets. The chair backs are the more comfortable option but tend to walk back and forth when someone else in the row leans back or gets up or down. Most fans will sit on the near side or the risers, but the student and visiting sections are located in the chair backs on the far side.

The students, known as the Blue Crew, sit in sections 112-115, while the visiting fans sit in sections 116 and 117 on the far sideline as well as 118 and 119 behind the basket. There are video boards on one sideline and behind one basket which show the score and player and team stats. All fans in the arena should be able to see at least one of the boards.

The Eagles have a mascot named Clawed Z. Eagle, although he was not present when we visited. This is likely because the game was over winter break, and Clawed returns when the students do.

Neighborhood 5

American University is located in the Tenleytown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. This is several miles from the center of the city, but don’t let that discourage you from visiting. There are several restaurants nearby, including local favorites Z Burger and District Taco, and several chain restaurants. Tenleytown is a safe neighborhood to walk in, but due to its distance from downtown, you may be better off driving.

Of course, this being the nation’s capital, plenty is going on elsewhere in the city as well, and the great thing is that most of it is free. The National Mall and all of its monuments and memorials are gorgeous on a November afternoon, and if you’re visiting later in the season and don’t want to deal with the cold, you can stop into one of the many museums. All government-run attractions are free of charge, though some privately-owned ones are not. Just keep in mind if you want to tour the Capitol or the White House, you will need to schedule that in advance.

Hotels are extremely expensive in DC itself, at least the ones of decent quality, so if you’re staying overnight, your best bet is to stay in the Virginia or Maryland suburbs and drive over.

Fans 3

Attendance at American games can vary widely. Some games will draw only a few hundred fans, while others will draw several thousand and Bender Arena will be rocking. When the fans show up, they are loud and raucous and cheer on the Eagles. They are not afraid to get on the referees' case when a call goes against them, either. Unfortunately, this kind of attendance isn't typical for most games. A packed Bender is a wonder to behold, but sadly this only seems to happen once or twice per season, usually in connection with some sort of ticket giveaway promotion.

Access 4

There is free and ample parking available in a garage right next to the arena, but the spaces can be quite tight, especially for larger vehicles. However, if you plan on driving in for a weeknight game, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, if you want to arrive early and walk around campus before the game, you cannot park in the garage until after 5 PM. Second, the Washington area has some of the worst traffic in the country, so you should allow extra time to account for it. Neither should be an issue on weekends, although there's always the possibility an accident will snarl traffic so check to be sure and plan accordingly.

If you plan on taking public transit, the closest Metro station is the Tenleytown stop on the Red Line, but this is about a 25-minute walk from the arena, so is not ideal.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets for sideline seats range from $15 to $18 depending on where you sit, while end zone seats are $10. While other teams have raised their ticket prices over the past several years, American has kept their prices the same, turning one of the most expensive tickets in the Patriot League into about an average one.

While concessions are expensive, you get a good amount of food for your money and it's high quality as well. A $9 soft pretzel may seem ridiculously expensive until you see how big it is - it can easily be shared between two or maybe even three people. The other food at the concession stand is similar. Throw in the free parking, a rarity in DC, and the value of an American University basketball game is high.

Extras 4

There are three extras in the lobby before you even walk into the arena proper. First, a donkey statue and an elephant statue represent America's two political parties. DC is the capital of the United States and American University in particular prides itself on its extensive public affairs program. Second, look for the Hall of Fame honoring AU legends of days gone by. Third, as you walk down the hallway and approach the arena door, check out the murals with pictures of Eagles greats.

Final Thoughts

While American doesn’t get much attention in D.C. compared to fellow local schools Georgetown and Maryland, a visit to Bender Arena can be as enjoyable as a visit to Capital One Arena or the Xfinity Center. The experience here has significantly improved in recent years, and if they could consistently draw the large crowds they have proven themselves capable of drawing on occasion, a game here would be even better.

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