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  • Writer's pictureMatt Fiedler

John J. Lee Amphitheater – Yale Bulldogs

Photos by Matt Fiedler and Paul Baker, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29

John J. Lee Amphitheater 70 Tower Parkway New Haven, CT 06511

Year Opened: 1932

Capacity: 2,532


A Trip Back in Time

Basketball has been played at Yale University since 1896. Payne Whitney Gymnasium and specifically John J. Lee Amphitheater has been the home of the Yale Bulldogs since 1932. The team has had a lot of ups and downs but has recently seen some success on the national stage. In the 2016 NCAA tournament the Bulldogs upset the 5th seeded Baylor Bears to win their first ever NCAA tournament game. The team returned to the tournament in 2019 and looks poised to continue their success under coach James Jones who is in his 21st season as head coach of the Bulldogs.

Food & Beverage 2

There is a single concession stand at John J. Lee Amphitheater. It offers the stadium essentials. Fans can find nachos, pizza, hot dogs, popcorn, and candy at the concession stand. One of the good things about this stand is that everything is $5 or less. In terms of beverages, fans will find Coca-Cola products at this arena and they won’t find any alcohol as this is an on-campus venue. Although the prices are low, Stadium Journey would still recommend grabbing some pizza before or after the game at one of the numerous pizza places in New Haven.

Atmosphere 4

The atmosphere at John J. Lee Amphitheater is truly unique. When you step into the arena it feels like you’ve gone back in time several decades. The architecture and layout of the arena feels from a far away time. During the game fans will notice there are no huge jumbotrons, just one board on each side of the arena that shows the relevant information. Yale has a great pep band that adds some flare and entertainment to the game. There isn’t the usual blaring pop music that you find at most Division One arenas, so the pep band adds most of the music. Fans will also be happy to see the 18th iteration of Handsome Dan. There has been a Bulldog holding the name of Handsome Dan since 1889.

Overall, this atmosphere is one that you can’t find at many college basketball venues anymore. It’s truly something that needs to be experienced by every college basketball fan.

Neighborhood 5

There are many great things about the city of New Haven. One of the best things about the city is the food that it has to offer. New Haven is known as one of the best places to grab some pizza in the country. There are many great pizza places, but the most popular ones are Sally’s, Pepe’s, Modern, and Bar. Some publications even say that the white clam pizza from Frank Pepe’s is the best pizza in the entire country. There are many other great restaurants in New Haven as well, with a cuisine to fit any appetite.

New Haven has historically been labeled a rough area, but the Yale campus and the area around it is a very safe part of the city. The city is also home to some great entertainment and culture. The Connecticut Children’s Museum, the Yale Art Gallery, and the Knights of Columbus Museum can all be found in New Haven. There are many things to do both before and after seeing a game at Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

Fans 2

It’s very clear that basketball isn’t the main draw for Yale athletics. This is definitely a hockey school, however, the basketball team has had success in recent years. Yale has made the NCAA tournament in 2016 and in 2019. For the 2019-2020 season, Yale has averaged roughly 1,300 fans per game. The fans that are in attendance do seem to get loud at the appropriate times, and they also know their basketball. Opposing fans will be treated respectfully, unless you’re a Harvard fan in which case you might receive some playful heckling.

Access 4

There are a lot of ways to get to New Haven. The city itself is located off the very busy I-95 and I-91. The arena itself is roughly two miles or so off I-91 and I-95. There are several free parking lots in the area around the arena that are gated. There is also a lot of parking on the side streets that surround the arena. When you walk into the main lobby you may think you’re in the wrong place, but if you just head to the right, you’ll find the entrance to the John J. Lee Amphitheater. Payne Whitney Gymnasium can certainly be mistaken for a college hall or an old church.

Taking public transportation is another way to get to New Haven. Union Station in New Haven is only eight minutes away from John J. Lee Amphitheater. If you’re coming from NYC or from Boston you can take the Amtrak train to Union Station and then take an Uber or Lyft to the arena.

Once inside, the layout of the seats is very unique. There are two main seating areas on each sideline of the court. There are also balconies where fans can stand and watch the game from behind the baseline. On the opposite side are club seats and lounges. The only thing that detracts from the accessibility is the concourse itself. The bathrooms are located downstairs which can make it tough for some people and the concourse can get a bit crowded at halftime and the end of the game.

Return on Investment 4

Going to see a Yale men’s basketball game is an experience that won’t hurt your wallet. Tickets range from $12 for reserved seats to $30 for courtside and preferred seating. Kids under 12 and seniors get $3 off per ticket. There are several free parking lots around the arena but there is also street parking. Be mindful of parking meters when parking on the street as some meters are in affect for certain hours. When you add in the fact that no concession stand items are over $5, it makes for a very affordable day of Division One basketball. Be warned that there are some areas of the arena where your view will be obstructed. However, there are usually enough good seats that you’ll be able to move if your seat is obstructed.

Extras 2

One extra star must go to the unique experience of attending a game at John J. Lee Amphitheater. You feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine when you walk into the arena. The architecture and atmosphere are reminiscent of a time long ago.

Another star goes to the excellent food scene of New Haven. Stadium Journey highly recommends having some pizza when you visit New Haven for a Yale basketball game.

Final Thoughts

A trip to a Yale basketball game is an experience that every Division One basketball fan should seek out. This is one of the most unique arenas there is in the country. The combination of architecture, artifacts, and seating options make for a very cool experience. A trip to a Yale basketball game is an affordable way to take in some Division One basketball in a classic environment. After the game make sure you take a trip to one of the famous pizza joints to grab a slice of New Haven.

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