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  • James Hilchen

Knapp Center – Drake Bulldogs

Photos by James Hilchen, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Knapp Center 2601 Forest Ave Des Moines, IA 50311

Year Opened: 1992 Capacity: 7,152


There's a Knapp For That

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. The arena is currently in the middle of a two-phase renovation. Recently completed, Knapp rounded off seating in the lower seating bowl. This made for a more aesthetic look as well as created a better atmosphere. Loge boxes and corner club seating were also added. Additionally, a new hospitality space was added for supporters of the team. For the next phase, plans call for a new video ring display, a new sound system, and improvements to upper-level seating.

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 is available along with hot dogs and sausage sandwiches, wraps, pulled pork, chicken tenders, and burgers. Popcorn, nachos, cotton candy, and various types of 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 fairly new addition to the drink menu is beer and other alcohol. Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Busch Light and a few others are available, along with wine and mixed drinks. There are two locations to purchase alcohol. Both are downstairs from the main concourse; one in the southeast and one in the northwest corner of the arena.

Atmosphere 4

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 lower seating bowl are all chair back seats, with the upper seating bowl (mostly general admission) being bleacher seats. The band adds a lot to the atmosphere and overall enjoyment of the game. The smaller venue adds to the atmosphere in this instance as the seats are right on top of the court.

Neighborhood 4

The Drake neighborhood is undergoing a rejuvenation and there are plenty of great places to go before or after a game. Lucky Horse Beer and Burgers is a couple blocks south of the arena and a very short walk. Lucky Horse serves up quality bar food and lots of drink options. Across the street from the Lucky Horse is Dough Co Pizza. Dough Co offers both gluten free and vegan crust, if desired, and if you are with a hungry bunch, they offer a massive 26 inch pizza.

At the Drake Diner, hometown cooking/comfort food is the specialty 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.

If you are just looking for a drink, head to Peggy’s Tavern, just west of Knapp Center. Peggy’s is a Drake staple and hugely popular amongst the locals. In town for a day or two? Just south of campus is newly opened Home2 Suites (a Hilton hotel).

Downtown Des Moines is about a five minute drive East of the Drake Campus and has every food imaginable and plenty of other places to stay.

Fans 4

Fans at the Knapp Center, and Iowa in general, are a knowledgeable bunch. The stands aren’t always packed here, 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 along the side streets in the area. However, the majority of the time, there are lots which will run $10. On the good side, they are close to the arena, resulting in 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.

An important note to add here is that beginning in 2022, Drake issued a no re-entry policy to all its’ sporting events.

Return on Investment 4

Attending a game at the Knapp Center is a very good value. Tickets range anywhere from $9 up to $29 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 4

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. Another point goes to the student section. They are into the game the entire way and greatly add to the college basketball atmosphere. A final point, to the live mascot, a bulldog named Griff II, who is generally present and accounted for at most games.

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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