- Paul Swaney
Kohl Center - Wisconsin Badgers
Photos by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43
601 W Dayton St
Madison, WI 53715
Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey website
Year Opened: 1998
On the Kohl Center
The six-time national champion Wisconsin Badgers occupy the Kohl Center, a massive venue by college hockey standards, seating a capacity of 15,325. The arena opened in 1998 and is the home of the Wisconsin Badgers men’s and women’s basketball and hockey teams.
Only two college hockey arenas are larger (Ohio State and Nebraska-Omaha), but even though it is a big arena, it is also easy to navigate and comfortable, with plenty of excitement to fill the huge space. The arena is named for United States Senator Herb Kohl, who graduated from Wisconsin in 1956. Senator Kohl donated $25 Million to the building of the Kohl Center.
At the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, the ice was officially named “Bob Johnson Rink,” in honor of former Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson (known to many in the area as “Badger Bob”). It is a fitting tribute to the man who led the Badgers to three National Championships.
If you are a fan of college hockey, or just a sports fan in general, then you will enjoy a Wisconsin hockey game at the Kohl Center.
Food & Beverage 3
There is plenty of selection at the Kohl Center for something to eat or drink, but the prices are just a tad bit on the high side. I make it a rule to stick to cheese and encased meats whenever I see a sporting event in the state of Wisconsin, and the brats ($4.50) at the Kohl Center certainly are the way to go.
Other basics are available as you walk the concourse including hot dog ($3.50), cheeseburger ($5), soft pretzel ($3.50, plus another $1 for cheese), slices of pizza ($4), nachos ($4), and Italian sausages ($4.50). Fried cheese curds used to be on the menu at Kohl Center, and I was disappointed not to find them this time around.
Some slightly more unique items include the chicken Caesar wrap ($6), Qdoba chicken burrito ($6), sliders (3 for $5). Coca-Cola is the beverage provider. Fountain drinks go for $3.50-$4.50, along with bottles of water ($4). Hot beverages are available including coffee, hot chocolate, and cappuccino ($3, or $6 in a travel mug).
Desserts can be picked up at the Sweet Shoppe concession, or you can grab an overpriced bag of candy ($3) like M&Ms, Skittles, Mike & Ike’s, or Snickers bar. Twizzlers go for $4.
Overall, it is a pretty good selection, and the service is fast and friendly, but the prices leave something to be desired.
As you approach the well-lighted Kohl Center exterior, you immediately begin to get that feeling that you are going to be in a special place. Through the front entrance, and you find the Dale Chihuly glass sculptures, known as the Mendota Wall (representing nearby Lake Mendota). It’s a beautiful piece of art, even if you don’t know about Murano-style glass.
Walking the concourse, you’ll find numerous displays, including an interesting timeline of Wisconsin sports accomplishments, which includes championship trophies for all of the Badger athletic teams. It is worth your time to arrive at least 30 minutes before the puck drops so you can walk the concourse and learn more about the history of this prestigious athletic history.
When you finally leave the concourse and poke your head through the black curtain that shrouds the aisles, your eyes will glow red. Red plastic seats rise up three levels.. The center-hung scoreboard has a large screen on all four sides offering real-time game action, as well as critical replays, and fun interaction with the crowd.
The band occupies the back seats of section 117. They are a major factor in the overall atmosphere, belting out current tunes as well as the familiar refrains of the fight song, “On Wisconsin.”
The student section is one of the best in all of sports, stretching in the western end of the arena from sections 113-116, and up into the further reaches in the 200 level. A large sign hangs marketing the area as the home of the “Crease Creatures.”
Regardless of where you choose to seat, you’ll find better than average legroom, and a comfortable chair. There are no cupholders so you’ll have to place your cup at your feet if you want to clap for the Badgers. I would recommend sitting in section 207 or 209 so you have a good view of the action on the ice, both benches, and the center logo looks right side up.
Bucky the Badger is a wonderful mascot. He loves to be among the students, the young men and women of Madison obviously return the affection. Bucky also makes his presence known on the ice during breaks, and throughout other sections when he can.
Madison, Wisconsin is one of the best college towns that I have visited, and I have visited a lot. The Kohl Center is only blocks away from the main hangouts along State street and beyond, about a mile and a half from the Wisconsin State Capitol Building.
If you are coming to Madison for a game, get here as early as you can. Better yet, make a weekend out of it. It is a lovely town with plenty of great restaurants and bars.
If you are looking for a great bar, then the Red Shed is the place for you. Located near the corner of University and Frances, the Red Shed is one of the institutions of Madison. Famous for their Long Island Iced Teas, try one, even if you wouldn’t normally order the drink. You’ll be glad that you did. They have darts and a pool table, so this is a good place to spend a few hours. Just bring cash, as they don’t accept credit cards.
Also in the neighborhood is the very popular State Street Brats, which is worth a stop for their signature encased meat and loaded toppings bar. Nitty Gritty is the closest bar, about a block from the Kohl Center. If you like locally brewed beers, then check out Vintage Brewing Company, where they also serve pretty good burgers.
If you’re a bit of a foodie, then venture over by the Capitol and try Coopers Tavern. They have 28 beers on tap and some really good and elevated food. I tried the reuben and the Sconnie egg (essentially a scotch egg, but covered in Wisconsin bratwurst), and both were outstanding.
Another place I can highly recommend is The Old Fashioned. Named for the classic cocktail, which has variations throughout Wisconsin, this is another foodie and drink snob paradise. I love the inexpensive snacks that can be purchased at the bar like homemade beef jerky, pickled turkey gizzards, and pickled eggs. I could have happily spent hours here.
Wisconsin fans love their Badgers, and it begins with the very strong student section. Standing throughout the game, the students don their red and white and cheer on their team. At times, they use more profanity than many would like to see at an event that should be family-friendly, but it is hard to criticize their efforts.
After a Wisconsin goal, the students will call on Phil, a long-time fan in the front row of section 111 to begin “the count”. After the second goal, for example, Phill will lead the chant “1-2- we want more!”, alternating towards the students and to the rest of the crowd. After a fourth goal, the students may chant “we want ice cream,” as local chain Culver’s gives out coupons for free ice cream when the Badgers score five goals or more.
At the end of the second intermission, the fans stand with arms around each other and sing “Varsity,” the school’s alma mater, along with much of the rest of the crowd. You won’t hear jumping around like at a football game at Camp Randall, but the atmosphere is very spirited and fun.
If you time it right and come into town around 4 pm, then you may be able to find metered street parking within a couple of blocks from the Kohl Center. For the most part, this is two-hour parking ($1.75/hour) and is not monitored after 6 pm, so for $3.50 or less you may be able to find cost-effective parking, just blocks from the arena. Try Frances Street.
If that doesn’t work out, then there are plenty of parking garages charging $15 for a game. Traffic can back up a bit after a game, but it’s nothing too harsh. Plan on 10-15 minutes of frustration at the worst, and you should be on your way.
Inside the arena, the concourses are very roomy and clean. I witnessed several staff cleaning up as the game was going on. The restrooms seem to be large enough to accommodate the crowds and are also very clean.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets range in price from $20-$24. Keep an eye out for “Family Four Pack Deals” where you can get packages of discounted tickets and food as well. Overall, you will likely be seeing a good hockey team, as the Badgers have appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the majority of seasons since moving to the Kohl Center. Parking is a little expensive but can be mitigated if you arrive early, as you should enjoy this wonderful neighborhood. Food is better than average and fairly priced. Overall, you will get what you pay for at Kohl Center.
One extra point for the six championship banners that hang from the rafters of the Kohl Center. I like that they are focused enough on championships that they don’t hang individual “Frozen Four” banners, with just one banner commemorating their NCAA Tournament appearances and 12 Frozen Four appearances.
One extra point for the combination of a great student section, pep band, and mascot. These three elements can make or break a college sports experience, and each is a major plus in this case.
One extra point for the town of Madison, one of the best college towns in the United States. It’s a great place to go to school, to live, or to visit.
Finally, an extra point for all of the history on display inside the Kohl Center. Make sure to give yourself some extra time to see everything on offer.
Time a visit in November and you may be able to see two games on your trip to Madison depending on the basketball and football schedules. College hockey fans should come to a Wisconsin game- it’s one of the finest venues in college hockey.