Photos by Jason Karp, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.29
Holt Arena 550 Memorial Dr Pocatello, ID 83209
Year Opened: 1970
The Dome That Time Forgot
Here’s a trivia question: What is the oldest indoor football stadium still in use? The answer, of course, is Idaho State University’s Holt Arena; home of the Bengals.
Holt Arena opened in 1970 as the nation’s first indoor football stadium on a college campus and is predated only by the Houston Astrodome. The arena also houses the home court of the Idaho State Bengals men’s basketball team, ISU’s indoor track and field programs, and it hosts concerts, track meets, rodeos, trade shows and many other events.
Originally called the Mini Dome, Holt Arena isn’t really a dome at all. It’s an arched roof structure sitting right on top of the ground like a giant quonset hut. The shape is not unlike the numerous potato warehouses scattered all over southeastern Idaho.
The building was the inspiration of former ISU athletic director Milton “Dubby” Holt who it might be said, was way ahead of his time. What the building lacks in architectural beauty it makes up in versatility.
Idaho State is a charter member of the Big Sky Conference and competes in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of Division I college football.
Food & Beverage 2
Concession stands are located in the entrance corridors behind the grandstands on either side of the arena. The offerings are very basic, but prices are a bargain compared to any other division one college sports venue I’ve been to. A huge bucket of popcorn is $3, a hot dog is only $2, and a small soda is $2. There’s no beer on sale inside the arena, but there was beer available at a stand in the parking lot. Fans can exit and re-enter the arena with their ticket stub to enjoy some tailgating at halftime.
Walking into Holt Arena feels like entering a time warp. The late sixties and early seventies utilitarian motif has not changed. The molded plastic seats throughout the arena colored in drab orange, green, and gold will take you back to the Brady Bunch days. However, one huge noticeable improvement is the modern artificial turf that replaced the thinly padded brillo like surface that made Holt Arena feared by opposing teams. The current surface is the same used by the Dallas Cowboys. Another unusual feature is the goal posts hang from the ceiling, so that is one less obstruction for the players to run into.
There are equally sized grandstands along both sidelines and no end zone seating. The seating is close to the action. There’s adequate leg room between rows and the plastic seats are more comfortable than the typical metal bleachers found in most college stadiums.
The students and band occupy the south side. Visiting fans are located in Section M, also on the south side.
With the Bengals struggling, the arena is a little more than half full, but even a small crowd can generate some good noise under the enclosed roof. The PA announcer does a good job of keeping the crowd informed on down and distance and tries hard to get everyone excited on 3rd downs with mixed results.
The setting around Holt Arena on the north side of the ISU campus is very parklike with wide expanses of trees and green space. In fact it would be quite a lovely setting for an outdoor stadium. This sentiment is reinforced by viewing ISU’s new practice field just south of the arena among the trees, grass, campus buildings, and the hills overlooking Pocatello. Unfortunately, the beauty of Pocatello’s surroundings is hidden under the ugly roof of Holt Arena during the game.
Pocatello, with a population of about 54,000, is a nice clean town in southeast Idaho. There are an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in the area including big game and bird hunting, fishing, and skiing. If touring the area, the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, an ancient volcanic feature, is well worth checking out.
The ISU campus is located in a residential section of Pocatello just off of I-15. It’s convenient for visiting fans to stay at one of the many hotels off Pocatello Creek Road at exit 71 (one exit north of the ISU exit) such as the Clarion, Super 8, or Red Lion. There are also several restaurants there including Perkins and the Sandpiper.
Downtown Pocatello is about 8 blocks west of Holt Arena via tree lined streets. When downtown, check out the Portneuf Valley Brew Pub, a nice find in a part of the country where brew pubs aren’t so common.
Idaho State fans have been longsuffering as the Bengals haven’t won a lot of games over the years. But when the Bengals do have a winning season, such as their fantastic run in 2014, and the fans show up in greater numbers, Holt Arena becomes a significant home field advantage.
But even in the midst of a tough losing season, the Bengal fans that make it to Holt Arena wear their Bengal gear with pride and cheer with enthusiasm. I’ve always found Bengal fans to be polite and friendly to visiting fans. They’re just out to have a good time and don’t seem to take things too seriously.
In the far flung, widespread Big Sky Conference, Idaho State might be the easiest road trip for the most of the Big Sky teams. Pocatello is located at the junction of I-86 and I-15. Holt Arena is right off I-15. Take exit 69, follow Clark Street to S. 15th Avenue and you’ll come right to the huge paved Holt Arena parking lot. There is plenty of room in the large parking lot and the cost to park is only $5. The parking lot is immediately adjacent to the arena so it’s a short walk from your car to the entrances.
The area around the arena appears to very walkable and bikeable from the rest of the ISU campus and the residential part of Pocatello.
The two sides of the arena mirror each other with twin entry corridors. Once inside, the concession stands and restrooms are in the corridor with several portals leading inside the arena. Section numbers are well marked above the entrances. Pay attention to what section you plan to sit in. If you enter on the wrong side you will have to leave the building and go around on the outside. There is not a concourse inside the building to take you all the way around the field. Restrooms are clean and functional and there aren’t any significant lines or crowding. The staff at the entry doors and the entry portals into the arena are polite, friendly, and helpful.
Return on Investment 3
Ticket prices range from $17 to $24, parking is $5, and the concession prices are very reasonable.
ISU football is a relative bargain compared to other division one football locations, and no matter how bad the weather is outside, it’s always warm and dry inside the dome.
A bonus point for the kicking tee-fetching dog, all decked out in a Bengal jersey. The dog flawlessly retrieves the kicking tee off the field after every Bengal kickoff to a big round of applause from both home and visiting fans.
Holt Arena was built at a time when multi-purpose stadiums were all the rage. As the years have gone on, the multi-purpose stadium is fading into history. Holt Arena used to be ahead of its time. It could easily accommodate all of ISU’s sports teams in climate controlled comfort if scheduling would allow. But some sports just need to be played outside, and the building has fallen behind as other college teams spruce up their arenas and stadiums.
Holt Arena is in need of some multi-million dollar renovations to bring it up-to-date. Perhaps opening up the sides to allow in natural light would help. Or better yet, construct a new, more reasonably sized basketball arena next door and then rip the roof off and have an outdoor stadium. I’m sure these ideas have passed through ISU – it’s just that such changes would cost tens of millions of dollars. And other than appearances, the building seems to be working just fine.