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  • James Hilchen

Knapp Center – Drake Bulldogs

Photos by James Hilchen, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14

Knapp Center 2601 Forest Ave Des Moines, IA 50311

Drake Bulldogs men's basketball website Knapp Center website

Year Opened: 1992 Capacity: 7,152


Nice Day for a Knapp

The Knapp Center sits on the grounds of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. The arena opened on December 1, 1992 at a cost of $12.5 million and was named after William Knapp, a member of the Drake Board of Trustees, who played an integral part in getting financing for the arena. The Knapp Center plays host to Drake Bulldogs men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. The men play in the Missouri Valley Conference, making a natural rivalry with fellow MVC and in-state school, Northern Iowa. For a small school (about 5,000 students), Drake has had some basketball success, boasting a trip to the Final Four in 1969, followed by trips to the Elite Eight in 1970 and 1971. Drake last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2008.

The arena has undergone upgrades in the last few years. A new LED scorer’s table and video board was installed along with better lighting, new graphics on the walls, and a new replay system.

Food & Beverage 3

The Knapp Center doesn’t offer the most elaborate choices but they have the basics covered and most of the prices are reasonable. Pizza from Papa Johns is available along with hot dogs and sausage sandwiches, wraps, and walking tacos. Popcorn, pretzels, and candy are also on the menu. Combos with a drink give you the most bang for your buck.

Coke products are the drink of choice. If you go with the souvenir cup, refills are $2. A new addition to the drink menu is beer. Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Busch Light and a few others are available for $6. There is only one location to purchase alcohol. Find Spike’s Locker Room (team store) and head down the stairs right next to it. There is a sign at the top of the stairs to assist.

Atmosphere 3

The inside of the arena is bathed in Drake colors, blue and white. Looking around the arena, banners are displayed for the various players and accomplishments of the team. The biggest and most prominently displayed among them is the banner representing the appearance in the 1969 Final Four. The majority of the seats along both sidelines are comfortable chair back seats, although there are some bleachers higher up on one side. Both baselines (which is where the student section and band sit) are bleacher seating. The band adds a lot to the atmosphere and overall enjoyment of the game. While it is sometimes a drawback, the smaller venue also adds to the atmosphere in this instance, with the crowd right on top of the court.

Neighborhood 3

The Knapp Center is located just south of downtown Des Moines. Within walking distance of the arena is Jethro’s BBQ. Jethro’s offers up some fabulous BBQ and has a monster sandwich, named after former Bulldog Adam Emmenecker, that has been featured on the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food.”

On the other side of main campus (south of Knapp Center) is the Drake Diner. Hometown cooking/comfort food is the specialty here and everything on the menu is tasty. Drake Diner also offers up decent sized portions so you won’t be left hungry if eating here before the game.

For day games, I highly suggest hitting Waveland Café prior to game time. The café is about 2 miles from the arena. Waveland serves up some of the best breakfast in Des Moines. It’s open until 2 PM daily and can be packed, so give yourself a little extra time…it’s worth it.

Fans 3

Fans at the Knapp Center, and Iowa in general, are a knowledgeable bunch. The stands aren’t always packed, but the fans that show up are into the game from tipoff. The student section is generally overflowing with students and they do their best to give grief to the opposing team whenever possible.

Access 3

On a day when the arena is packed, parking can be an issue. There aren’t many large parking complexes in the area. If you are early and lucky there may be a few random free spots. However, the majority of the time, there are lots which will run $10. On the good side, they are close to the arena and a short walk.

Inside the Knapp Center, the concourse is plenty wide to get around. The one drawback is there is only one clearly marked set of restrooms, located near the entrance to the arena. As such, you may have to do a little walking depending on where your seats are and there may be a line during down times of the game.

Return on Investment 4

Attending a game at the Knapp Center is a very good value. Tickets range anywhere from $10 up to $25 for the best seats you can buy, which is a bargain for NCAA Division I college basketball. Combine the ticket price with reasonable food prices and the Knapp Center will show you a darn good time for not a lot of money.

Extras 3

An extra point goes to the game day staff who are quite friendly and offer a nice little program upon entry, free of charge. The Knapp Center does a great job of celebrating Drake athletics. From the banners atop the arena to many different exhibits around the lobby, make sure to take the time to look around. There is a lot to see. One final point goes to the student section. They are into the game the entire way and greatly add to the college basketball atmosphere.

Final Thoughts

Knapp Center provides a great college basketball atmosphere without breaking the bank. The arena is nice and there is plenty of good food in the area. Drake basketball isn’t as celebrated as fellow in-state schools Iowa and Iowa State, but a visit to the Knapp Center is well worth any college basketball fan’s time.

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