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  • Jared Goodman

Madison Square Garden - St. John's Red Storm


Photos by Jared Goodman, Stadium Journey


Madison Square Garden FANFARE Score: 4.43

Madison Square Garden 4 Pennsylvania Plaza New York, NY 10001

St. John's Red Storm website Madison Square Garden website

Year Opened: 1968 Capacity: 19,812

 

Big East in the Big Apple

It’s been called The World’s Most Famous Arena.


Madison Square Garden, permanent home of the NBA’s New York Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers, has been Midtown Manhattan’s premier entertainment showplace for decades. The hardwood here has seen two championship Knicks teams, while the ice saw the Rangers hoist the Stanley Cup. Famous artists such as Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, and Bruce Springsteen have all graced the walls of The Garden with their vocal talents. And before the center of the boxing universe became Las Vegas, the most hyped matches were held at MSG.

At each and every one of these events, the arena has been filled to the rafters - the teams, singers, and fighters all playing to the packed house. But one tenant in particular doesn’t draw a sold-out crowd, providing fans of sports history a much more relaxed visit to one of the most iconic venues in sports.


St. John’s Red Storm basketball, a member of the Big East Conference, plays select marquee matchups at MSG and provides the city with some enjoyable and quality college hoops. “New York’s Team”, as the Johnnies are known, have put Manhattan under warning: it’s about to get gusty in The Garden.


Food & Beverage 5

Most Red Storm games staged at Madison Square Garden are played in the afternoon, prior to a Knicks or Rangers game at night. Because of this, the concessionaires that are usually open for the pro games are also available during the St. John’s matinées. However, this isn’t always the case so be aware that there may be limited options during your visit.


Overall, there are a tremendous amount of concessions to be had, representing many different types of cuisines. If you’re willing to spend a fair amount of dough on some food, you definitely can’t go wrong - or hungry.


Here are just a handful of the entrée choices: cheesesteak ($14.50), pastrami sandwich ($12), pulled pork sandwich ($12), chicken tenders, sandwich, or wings ($14), cheeseburger ($12), cheese pizza slice ($8), panini sandwich ($14), sushi ($3.50), turkey or corned beef sandwich ($15.50), brisket ($15), and a Sabrett ¼ lb. hot dog ($7.50).


There’s also a Simply Vegan area that serves up meat-free dishes. Here, you can grab items like the Double Impossible Burger ($14) and pomme frites ($9).


Snacks include popcorn ($7), pretzels ($6), cookies ($6), variety candy ($5), chips ($4), and ice cream treats such as King Cone and Klondike Bars ($5.25). The Bouchon Bakery also has a stand at MSG, where you can grab a latte ($4.50), coffee ($5.50), espresso ($6), cake pop ($3.50), or black and white cookie ($5). Other coffee options (all priced at $5.50) are available at the Dunkin’ Donuts’ kiosk.


Additional beverage options include many varieties of alcohol, from Heineken to Budweiser to Guinness, all priced between $13 and $15. Finally, a Pepsi-branded soda is $7, while bottled water is $6.


Atmosphere 4

St. Johns markets themselves as the college basketball team of the Big Apple, proclaiming “We Are New York’s Team” at every game. Seeing as they are the sole college team to play home contests at Madison Square Garden, their claim is more than warranted. The arena accommodates between 6 and 7 Red Storm games each season, while the Johnnies’ on-campus home, Carnesecca Arena in Queens, hosts the remainder of their schedule. Since 1983, MSG has also been the site of the men’s basketball tournament for the Big East Conference, of which St. John’s is a member.


Prior to tip-off, the Red Storm makes landfall and dominates the arena, plunging the seating bowl into a low-lit red aura. A video emphasizing St. John’s impact on the city, complete with visuals of iconic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, completes the “storm warning” feel. A projection of the American flag onto the court during the National Anthem only solidifies the high-quality presentation.


During the game, things dial back a bit. The focus is on the game unfolding on the floor, and that’s when the Red Storm’s pep band and fan base take over the atmosphere. Of particular note is the school’s dance team, which seems to have been pulled straight off Broadway. When they perform at intermissions in the game, it’s almost as if you’ve just been transported from MSG to one of the Big Apple’s many theatres.


Neighborhood 5

Every type of cuisine and entertainment option that you can possibly imagine can be found on the island of Manhattan. This is the Big Apple, after all, and one of the biggest cities in the world.


Madison Square Garden is located in Midtown, on the west side of the island near the Hudson River. It’s situated near the Garment District between 7th and 8th Avenues from 31st to 33rd Streets, fitting nicely into the two block area. Some of the world’s most iconic destinations are just a short walk away from the doors of MSG. The Empire State Building, for example, is two blocks east, while Times Square is about eight blocks north. Two to three blocks to the west, you’ll find the picturesque High Line, along with the newly-developed Hudson Yards project.


With the subway at your feet (literally), all five boroughs are truly within reach, each one contributing its own take to New York’s endless dining scene. A few items you should try if you’re visiting the city for the first time might include some famous NY-style pizza, a black & white cookie, and a bagel made with dirty water. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, perhaps try a hot dog from one of the many street vendors. Finally, be sure to stop at two of the city’s mainstays: grab some legendary pastrami at Katz’s Delicatessen, and top it off with some luscious cheesecake from Junior’s.


Fans 4

Turnouts for St. John’s contests tend to be smaller and more intimate than what you’d see during Knicks or Rangers games, but this is hardly a negative aspect. The lower bowl of MSG is generally nearly full, with a few stragglers opting to make use of the desolate upper levels. Average attendance in Manhattan is probably around 7,000; compare that to when the Red Storm play at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, which holds about 5,600 fans and typically only draws 4,000. The bottom line? Attendance is not the issue. It’s the enormity of The Garden that makes games feel empty, or a bit lackluster.


The fan support even continues well after the game ends, with “Let’s Go Johnnies” chants ringing throughout the concourse; don’t be surprised to hear them continue out onto the streets as you exit.


Access 4

New York is notoriously difficult to navigate. The city’s grid-like streets and clogged highways are both infamous and potentially dangerous. Driving in the Big Apple while in a rush is an absolute recipe for disaster (one minor exception may be when St. John’s hosts weekend matinée games; then, parking is usually plentiful in the surrounding areas, and moderately priced to boot).


Still, the plethora of public transit options exist for good reason, and this is hands-down the best way to navigate New York. Taking a train, bus, or taxi to the doorstep of MSG is incredibly easy compared to other sites in the Big Apple, if only for the fact that the arena is literally built on top of the transportation hub of Pennsylvania Station.

Once inside the arena, you’ll find the concourses to be well-lit and easy to navigate, if a little narrow as well. However, during St. John’s games that don’t draw huge crowds anyway, gridlock will likely not be an issue. In fact, the higher up you go in the building, the less people you’ll encounter. The entire seating bowl is usually open for Red Storm games, but the upper bowl is almost always completely empty or at least very sparse.


Return on Investment 4

An outing to Madison Square Garden will cost you - but it’s an outing that’s worth every penny.

One benefit to low-attendance Red Storm games is the fact that tickets don’t usually exceed $40 on the secondary market. Of course prices fluctuate based on the opponent, but this is less than half of what you’d pay to see the Knicks or Rangers play in the same venue.


If you plan to drive to the game, parking will run you about $20. To get the best deal, buy your parking online in advance and make a reservation for a guaranteed spot. If you’re taking public transit, be sure to factor in those costs beforehand. Remember, rates and fares will vary greatly depending on your departure location within the city or the Tri-State area.


Finally, expect to drop at least $30 for an entrée and a drink, should you choose to eat during the game. While restaurants in New York tend to be expensive in general, the concessions at MSG are particularly steep.

All totaled, anticipate spending around $80 per person for a Red Storm game, plus public transit costs. Compared to other events at The Garden, this is a steal to see the glorified arena.


Extras 5

Madison Square Garden opened in 1968, making it the oldest pro sports venue in the New York area and the oldest arena in both the NBA and NHL. Throughout its tenure as the city’s premier entertainment facility, MSG has hosted an innumerable amount of historic events. Some of the most important are highlighted on the main concourse, decorating the walls as if they were part of a museum.


Wayne Gretzky holds a notable spot amongst these exhibits, with his showcase featuring lots of memorabilia from his final NHL game, played at The Garden in 1999. Other displays focus on the venue’s rich boxing past, including the “Fight of the Century” in 1971 which pitted heavyweight champion Joe Frazier against an unbeaten Muhammed Ali. Additionally, there are small panels that run along the ceiling of the lower concourse which feature some of the smaller, yet significant moments to occur at MSG. One such example is Duke’s Coach K notching his 1000th career win in 2015.


Over a billion dollars went into extensive renovations to MSG during three offseasons from 2011 to 2013. The result was a revamped venue with a more modern feel, and included two major new additions. The first was a massive scoreboard affixed to the center of the iconic roof, while the second involved two skywalks above the bowl. These “Chase Bridges” were added in summer 2013 and provide extra seating space, a bird’s eye view of the floor, and additional areas for media and the handicapped. Both the bridges and the videoboard are rather impressive and not something that’s easily replicated in other arenas.


Finally, a fun fact about the Red Storm’s relationship with Madison Square Garden: every year since 1931, a record 89 seasons, St. John’s has played at least one game at MSG. This record includes the current iteration of The Garden, as well as its predecessor located further up 8th Avenue at 49th Street.


Final Thoughts

While a half-empty seating bowl would usually be a detractor at other venues, it is actually a benefit at Madison Square Garden. The more relaxed ambience during St. John’s games, for the most part, provide fans with a chance to enjoy and appreciate the architecture and the history of The World’s Most Famous Arena.

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