Photos by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
FAU Arena 777 Glades Rd. Boca Raton, FL 33431
Year Opened: 1984
Winning in Paradise
The story of the 2023 NCAA basketball tournament was the Florida Atlantic Owls making a surprising run to the Final Four. That means they are now a very popular draw, which presents challenges for the stadium traveler. The Owls play out of the Eleanor R. Baldwin Arena, which holds just 2,900 (though a sellout is considered 3,161), and almost all seats belong to season-ticket holders or are reserved for students.
The secondary market has seen very high prices, but tickets that are returned from the visiting team are made available at the box office. That is your best bet, other than enrolling as a student and picking up a student ticket the day before.
Even then, that's no guarantee of entry as the student capacity of 750 is often exceeded, and some students are sent home. Everyone loves a winner, and the Owls are certainly that these days, even after moving up to the American Athletic Conference. So, if you are fortunate enough to get in, what is the experience like?
Food & Beverage 2
The biggest weakness here is a limited selection of food and beverage options. There is a single concession stand inside the main entrance with typical arena fare. The cheapest food items are small popcorn and small cotton candy at $6, while almost everything else is $8 (hot dogs, nachos with cheese, pretzels (add $2 for queso), hamburgers (add $1 to make it a cheeseburger) and a large popcorn). Snacks are limited to chips for $3 and boxes of candy for $4.
Coca-Cola products are $5, as is Powerade, while water is a buck cheaper. Beer is reasonably priced at $7 for domestic (perhaps the only place where beer is cheaper than a hot dog) and $8 for imported, and there is even wine for $9 and Prosecco for $10.
Fans should eat before or after the game as several good establishments have a short drive to the arena.
The venue opened in 1984 and was initially called FAU Arena, with The Burrow added as a nickname (there is still a sign outside indicating this). The campus features burrowing owls on campus, contributing to the arena being nicknamed The Burrow.
In November 2022, Eleanor Baldwin donated $7.5 million, and the arena is now named after her (and nicknamed The Elly). The team won 20 straight games after the change of name, adding a bit of good luck.
Inside the main entrance is a large lobby, where the trophies from last season are on display, as well as a single concession stand.
If you have lower bowl seats, you can enter the gym on this level and walk up to your seats; if you are on the upper level, you have to use a stairwell on the correct side to reach a walkway at the top of the building and then walk down to your seats. The two levels of seating on both sides are separated by metal bars; you will need to know where your seat is. On the second level, behind one net, is a large club area that leads to some suites. You need a special ticket to enter this area.
Students take up the entirety of the lower bowl along the same side as the cameras, in other words, facing the logo. There are two smaller student sections behind each basket as well. Sellouts have attendance listed at 3,161, and students make up about 25% of this number, which gives the arena a fantastic atmosphere from well before tip-off. It can be loud, so if that bothers you, you can stay outside until closer to game time.
I think this is what most fans do, as the upper bowl took a lot longer to fill up. By game time, though, nearly every seat was taken, and the crowd was energetic. There is no scoreboard above center court, which gives this small venue a more open feel. At the far end is a huge video board that shows highlights and all the player and team stats.
There are two mascots: Owlsley is the grown-up, and there is also Hoot, who seems to be a baby owl. Both were very active during the game, as were the cheerleaders and dance team, who are known as the Fly Girls. When FAU slams a dunk home or hits a key three-pointer, two students run flags around the court. It was a very dynamic atmosphere until the final buzzer.
The FAU campus is self-contained and bordered by the Boca Raton airport to the northwest, Spanish River Road to the north, Glades Road to the south, and a creek to the east. It is quite a large area, and walking to any eateries outside the campus is not recommended. However, several establishments are within a short drive.
In particular, downtown Boca Raton is just 10 minutes away and has dozens of restaurants and bars that should offer something for everyone. Slightly closer to campus is the Irishmen pub, while the Town Center at Boca Raton is just to the southwest of the campus and includes Tap 42 Craft Kitchen and Bar, as well as a Hooters, among other joints.
Of course, the Atlantic Ocean is right there, and there are a few beach parks within a 15-minute drive of the arena. There are many hotels within the vicinity of FAU, though prices can be high during the winter season. You may want to stay a few minutes away to save some money.
On the campus, the FAU Fogelman Sports Museum is nearby and open for a few hours every day except Monday. It is free and contains quite a bit of sports memorabilia and is worth a visit if you have time in the area.
It was an hour before the tip, and the student section was mostly full. It is because student capacity is so limited (many students were turned away a week before the game). Students show up early to grab a seat, which is great to see. A student section that cares about their team, and they stood for most of the evening. By the time the game started, the arena was full, and it stayed that way until the end of the game. Fans are loud and proud and deserving of their fantastic Final Four run last year.
FAU is located next to I-95 and is easy to get to by following your GPS. You do have to drive a bit on campus to get to the free parking lots immediately surrounding the arena. Getting out is pretty easy, too as you can be on the highway in just a couple of minutes.
Inside, there is not a true concourse but a lobby that leads to the main gym for those in the lower seats and the stairwells to the upper level for fans in those seats. As such, there is no real difficulty in getting around.
The single concession stand does see long lines before the game, so if you need to eat, get there early or wait until the game starts. Restrooms are a bit difficult to find, but there were no lineups there that I saw.
Return on Investment 4
This might be the most difficult area to rate because tickets are hard to come by, and you can pay close to $100 on the secondary market. As mentioned, tickets that are not used by the visiting team are returned and made available at the box office, which is likely your best bet to snag one. I saw a small lineup more than an hour before the game, so if this is your plan, you need to arrive early.
Parking is free, but food is a bit expensive. Still, this is one of the best experiences in college basketball, with a talented team playing in front of a passionate crowd in a small, intimate venue.
The floor is adorned with palm trees, one of the more attractive court designs in college basketball. I always appreciate the attempts to add a bit of local flavor to the court. The trophies in the front lobby for both the men and women merit a point. There are photos and other displays inside some of these stairwells that are worth checking out.
Overall, FAU is the epitome of what college basketball should be: a small school that maintains a small arena where students get the best seats despite the team's rise to national prominence. I don't know how long this combination will last, so if you want to enjoy this experience, you should get there in the next few seasons to appreciate all that the team has to offer the fans.