Photos by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Kohl Center 601 W Dayton St. Madison, WI 53715
Year Opened: 1998
Basketball at Kohl Center
Since opening in 1998, the Kohl Center has become one of college basketball’s most recognizable arenas. With a capacity over 17,000, it is larger than many professional arenas in the country. It has seen its fair share of memorable moments and Badger fans have created consistently great atmospheres at the Kohl Center.
Food & Beverage 3
You’re not going to be disappointed by the selection of food at the Kohl Center, but you’ll by no means be blown away. They have everything they should, hot dogs, pretzels, all the basics. The most diverse item on any menu is going to be the specialty Johnsonville sausage.
In walking around before the game, all the concession stands were also quite similar. No matter where you sit, you do not have to go very far to get whatever it is you want. Nothing is too expensive, either. As you might expect everything to eat is reasonably priced.
Also, with it being a college building, there is no sale of beer. 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).
For big games, the Kohl Center gets rocking. I was there when the Badgers were playing a 13-15 Purdue team on a Sunday afternoon, though, and it was quite a tame atmosphere. The last time I was at the Kohl Center was in December of 2011 when the Badgers took on in-state rivals Marquette. Obviously, there were Golden Eagles fans there as well, but the Kohl Center had a big-game feel to it.
During my most recent visit in early 2013, a lot of the time it felt like more people were there just to hang out with friends and family. It was Senior Day, so I would have maybe expected a bit of a better atmosphere for the final home game of the season.
Still, I know this was a bad day for the Kohl Center, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Madison is a fantastic college town. While it may be bigger than most other ones, it is all about the Badgers and you’ll be hard-pressed to find somewhere you wouldn’t enjoy before or after a game.
The Kohl Center is right on Wisconsin’s campus, making it easy to find somewhere to go before and after each game. Not only are you a couple blocks from the famous State Street (which has places like Gino’s, Hawk’s Bar and Grill, and local favorite Ian’s Pizza), but there are a few Madison favorites that you will have to choose from after a game.
Badgerland Bar and Grill and the Nitty Gritty are the two closest places to go to from the Kohl Center, and both will likely be pretty crowded immediately following a game. They are both a five-minute walk from the arena.
Whenever I have talked to people I know that go to Wisconsin about the popular bars in Madison, Wando’s always comes up. It may not be the nicest bar, but if you’re looking for an atmosphere after a Badger game I would be shocked if there weren’t a lot of people there.
Chasers Bar and Grille on Gorham Street and the Blue Velvet Lounge on Gilman Street are also places that were recommended to me and when I was walking around after the game they both seemed pretty crowded, but not sloppy or anything like that.
The student section was not nearly as raucous as I expected until the second half. On defensive possessions, there was pretty much no noise being made in the first half, and it was a bit disappointing. In fact, a group of Purdue students compiled three rows at the very top of the arena, and they were making a similar amount of noise when the Boilermakers were on defense.
The crowd knows when to get behind their team, but don’t necessarily do so in a big way. I know against teams that are better than Purdue, the Kohl Center is a lot louder. Still, the fans could have been much more involved in the game in the first half. When the Badgers were down and trying to gain momentum, though, the Kohl Center got loud. They sensed when they needed to be on their feet and when their Badgers needed a little boost.
I did ask someone just walking around a couple of questions about where to go for food and for a certain section, and the group of three stopped and helped me. The fans are nice enough where you can sit anywhere in the arena and be able to strike up a conversation about the game with whoever you’re next to.
Something else that was underrated for me was the lack of movement during timeouts and the game. Fans are here to watch Badgers basketball and they focus on that. Even during media timeouts, there were not that many fans moving around to go to the bathroom or get food.
One thing I did like and took note of at the Kohl Center was the organization of the fans. During some timeouts and songs played by the band and those played by the arena, fans were synchronized in their movements and also looked like they were always on the same page. For me, that’s what it should be like at a college basketball game.
Wisconsin is a football school. Two friends of mine who recently graduated told me they would always do anything to go to a football game, but just going to a bar to watch the game on TV was sufficient for them for the men’s basketball team. That showed during my visit.
You will not have trouble finding parking around the Kohl Center, and you’re unlikely to have to pay more than $15. The lot I parked in was about two blocks from the arena, and I know there were plenty of other places to park within four or five blocks of the arena.
Return on Investment 4
For a game against one of the lower teams of the Big Ten (one that is toward the bottom of the Big Ten standings) the cheapest ticket will be between $15 and $20. For bigger games, it may cost double that just to get into the arena. Still, you feel like part of a big family at the Kohl Center so it will be a unique experience and worth it.
The Kohl Center really is a nice arena. It is built to keep all of the noise in the building and toward the court, and it is right in the middle of the campus. There may be not much to it as an arena, but the game presentation was good for me, as they had a lot of interaction with students for in-game contests and also focused on the band and cheerleaders. Once again, that’s refreshing for a college game.
Through the front entrance, 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.
It’s a big arena to just host college basketball and hockey. When you are outside the Kohl Center, you probably think it’s the size of an NBA arena. While the capacity isn’t necessarily as high as a professional arena, the Kohl Center still is a large arena for college athletics.
On the right day, it’s a great arena and a wonderful experience for any college basketball fan.