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  • Richard Smith

CFG Bank Arena – CIAA Basketball Tournament


Photos by Richard Smith, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

CFG Bank Arena 201 W Baltimore St Baltimore, MD 21201

Year Opened: 1962 Capacity: 14,000

 

A "New" Arena For Charm City

The arena now known as the CFG Bank Arena has a long and storied history. It opened in 1962 as the Baltimore Civic Center. During its time as the Civic Center, the arena hosted legends such as The Beatles, Martin Luther King Jr., and Led Zeppelin, as well as being the home floor of the Baltimore Bullets of the NBA until their move to near Washington, DC in 1973. The indoor soccer team, the Baltimore Blast, as well as various sports teams have also made the venue their home over the years.


The late 1980s remodel saw a name change to the Baltimore Arena. It also spent most of the early 21st century with the corporate name First Mariner Arena. and then the Royal Farms Arena.


The Oak View Group, which was chosen by the City of Baltimore to manage the venue, closed down the arena in early 2022 to perform a massive renovation on the aging arena. The CIAA Tournament is the first event since the remodeling work was done. The official grand opening was the April 7, 2023 concert by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.


The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) is a collegiate athletic conference, mostly consisting of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). CIAA institutions play at the Division II level of the NCAA. The CIAA is the first NCAA Division II conference to have its tournament televised as part of Championship Week on ESPN and it has become one of the largest college basketball events in the nation. The last day of the tournament is known as “Super Saturday” in which the men’s and women’s tournament champions are crowned. For 15 years, the tournament was held in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 2021 event was the first in Baltimore. The yearly event has now been extended through 2025 for Baltimore.


Food & Beverage 4

There are only two major food stands open, along with various grab-and-go locations, for the event. This may change once the final renovations are done. It does appear that the arena is going to be more of a concert and entertainment venue that just happens to host a few sporting events along the way. This means the food and drink options are more aimed at the drinking crowd element than food.


The Big Chicken and Koko's Bavarian Biergarten Brewery offer simple menus but the food offerings are quite good. Prices are not cheap but are at usual arena price levels.


Atmosphere 5

The CIAA had been a major event in the past for Charlotte. It looks like the event is having the same kind of effect on Baltimore. Besides the tourney, there are concerts and events throughout the city during the event.


A 14,000-seat venue is not a large arena, but not small either. A benefit of the unique design of this facility is that it tends to make it feel more intimate than it really is. Even the largest events there can feel like smaller ones. The effect of this also means that even less attended events can feel loud.


Being a long, multi-day sporting event you will see varying amounts of fans in the stands. Some games will be more packed than others. There are alumni from all the schools attending the event and offering their cheers.


There will be bands, mascots, cheerleaders, and dance squads for all of the schools, and they all offer a great addition to the atmosphere.


There are some unique changes to the arena since last year. The main concourse has now been moved to the level above the main seating bowl. Walls have been removed to make this concourse now an open view to the action in the arena. This is a massive change to the venue. There are other changes in the seating bowl, such as walkways having been removed and new entry points being added.


The arena had a single suite before the renovation and now has several suites and theatre boxes along with some private and premium club spaces.


The arena has also gotten fresh paint jobs everywhere. The arena now has a grey and black modern look and feel.



Neighborhood 3

The CFG Bank Arena is right in the heart of downtown Baltimore, with its numerous entertainment and food options close by. But the arena is a few blocks from the more touristy sections of town. And those few blocks can make a difference.


I am not saying it is unsafe, as talk like that is far overblown in the city. One just needs to use caution and watch their surroundings. The 2015 riots in Baltimore City should not be forgotten, nor should they stop you from attending an event at the arena. Just be aware of where you are.


If you do have some time before the game (or after…) a visit to the Pratt Street Ale House is only about a block away. They have good brews and food. Try the crab pretzel for a serious Maryland food experience.


Venturing further away from the arena one of my favorites is the Abbey Burger Bar right near the Cross Street Market. The beer selection is good and they offer a dizzying array of burger choices, all of which are likely to satisfy.


For slightly more upscale cuisine a visit to the 1100-1200 blocks of North Charles Street where The Brewers Art and Sammy’s Trattoria offer good food at decent prices.


Baltimore is home to many touristy attractions such as Harborplace, Fells Point, and Fort McHenry. The American Visionary Art Museum on Key Highway is located on the way to Fort McHenry and should not be missed, although its unique collection will not be for everyone.


Fans 5

Tournaments will have varying fan bases, so it may change from game to game. I would imagine the extremely located schools have trouble filling the stands.


Pep bands, mascots, and cheerleaders also make the atmosphere rival a big-time college environment.


Access 4

The CFG Bank Arena is located in downtown Baltimore about a block from the Baltimore Convention Center and two blocks from Camden Yards. It is close to I-95, with only a couple of turns from the arena putting you on the highway home.


Parking garages can be found in all directions from the arena. One garage is even physically attached to the arena. Look for parking deals to come with some event tickets. Street parking is not a great option.


Return on Investment 3

The best value seems to be the all-tournament pass at $225. There are day tickets available and they do appear to be more expensive than in years past.


Extras 4

Even with the updates to the arena, there are still some cool and unique seating structures around the venue. The weird old squared corner seats still exist but have now been rounded until a better format. The view should be much improved from those seats. It is things like that which will make the old-school design elements a feature in themselves.


The fans themselves are an extra at an event like this. They support their respective teams very well and will make this an enjoyable event to attend.


Check out the dance and cheer squads as they get the crowds excited.


Final Thoughts

This is not the same old Baltimore Arena that many may remember. The massive renovation work has transformed the venue into a state-of-the-art entertainment venue. And with a party-type event like the CIAA Tournament, you WILL have a good time here.

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