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  • Steven Burke

CEFCU Arena – Illinois State Redbirds

Photos by Steven Burke, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

CEFCU Arena 702 W College Ave Normal, IL 61761

Year Opened: 1989

Capacity: 10,200


Where the Redbirds Fly

The Missouri Valley Conference is synonymous with college basketball, and while not one of the more well-known programs in the venerable conference, the Illinois State Redbirds provide a great game experience in central Illinois. Opened in 1989, Redbird Arena is a 10,200-seat facility on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, IL. Redbird Arena is also home to the ISU women’s basketball team as well as the women’s volleyball team.

Note: In Nov 2022, the arena name changed from Redbird Arena to CEFCU Arena as part of a naming rights and sponsor agreement with the credit union.

Food & Beverage 3

Redbird Arena has the usual items in reference to food and beverages. The concourse is lined with permanent concessions stands all featuring the same basic items such as hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, polish sausages, candy, and soft drinks. Prices range from $3-$4 for entrees, $2-$4 for candy and snacks, and $3-$5 for beverages.

The inside of the concourse has several free-standing specialty options. A Mexican inspired stand serves nachos and walking tacos ranging $5-$7, the Papa John’s stand serves individual pizzas all costing $7 with choices of cheese, sausage, and pepperoni. All of the permanent concession stands on the concourse accept cash or credit cards, while all the specialty stands only accept cash so plan accordingly.

Atmosphere 4

The atmosphere at Redbird Arena has improved in recent seasons as one of the great players in Redbird history, Dan Muller, has returned as head coach and reinvigorated the fan base. A renewed interest from fans along with aesthetic upgrades has kept Redbird Arena competitive with other mid-major venues.

The die-hard basketball fans are rewarded with an upgraded video scoreboard above center-court along with new ribbon boards spanning the upper deck facade along both baselines. The ribbon boards track individual player stats while the center-court scoreboard keeps track of the points, game clock, and team statistics.

For families attending games, a variety of contests during team and media timeouts keep the crowd excited and involved. Overall Illinois State does a great job creating an atmosphere that is welcoming to all in a town where the Redbirds are the highest level of entertainment.

Neighborhood 3

Redbird Arena is located on College Street in an area of campus that houses many of the ISU athletic facilities, providing a real sense of being on a college campus. As for the neighborhood, it mostly consists of a mixture of university buildings. However, in the Bloomington-Normal area, you are never far from retail or food and beverage options. Many chain options are available in the immediate area and you will drive past most of them on your way into town.

A few popular destinations in the area that aren’t of the chain variety include Avanti’s, Schooners, and Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works. Avanti’s is an Italian restaurant, while Schooners is a sports bar. Schooners is famous for itdeep-frieded pork tenderloin sandwich, which is so large that they ask you how many buns you would like with it. Destihl has become fairly well known in Illinois in recent years for their beers including their wild sour series.

Fans 4

The student section at Redbird games is pretty lively, many students are dressed in crazy costumes and carrying giant cutout heads of the players and coaches that have become so popular in recent years in college basketball. The student section is located behind one of the baselines as is customary in many college basketball settings and they do their part to rattle the visiting team. The students create an intense raucous atmosphere, and are into the action on the court the entire game. The students are located right next to the pep band and the two seem to do a good job feeding off of each other to create a great college basketball environment.

The Redbirds also seem to have a dedicated group of fans from the community. Some are no doubt alumni, but others are just fans of the game. In this area of central Illinois entertainment choices can be limited and that appears to work to the benefit of Redbird basketball as they are the main show in town.

Access 4

Parking in the vicinity of Redbird Arena is plentiful and affordable with some lots even being free. While you may have to walk a few blocks from one of the free lots, you can’t beat the price. The school does offer free parking with shuttle service from lots near the ISU golf course as well.

While leaving the area around Redbird Arena is generally quick and easy, larger crowds can create a small traffic jam while leaving. Remain patient however as attendants do a good job of directing traffic while vehicles are leaving.

Return on Investment 5

The Redbirds host some high quality opponents in the Missouri Valley Conference and offer a great return on investment. Lower level tickets range from $22-$25 depending on the opponent and all lower level seats provide an excellent view of the action.

Upper level tickets range from $9-$14 for adults and $6-$9 for children under the age of 12. While all of the seats in the upper level have a great view of the court there are some issues with viewing the new ribbon boards. If you are an intense follower of the action on the court and keep an eye on individual player statistics such as points and fouls be aware when choosing a seat in the upper level. The new video board above center court obscures your view of the ribbon board if you are seated behind either baseline. If seeing these statistics are important to your enjoyment of the game look for a ticket in the lower bowl or on the sides of the upper bowl.

Extras 3

An extra point for the school and their understanding of the community involvement in athletics. Recently the school worked out a deal with Heartland Community College, allowing Heartland students to attend Redbird basketball games at a discounted ticket price. Heartland, which doesn’t have a basketball program, has many students from the local area that grew up Redbird fans and this agreement allows them to enjoy the games at an affordable cost. The agreement also allows the Redbirds to sell more tickets and connect with the community so it is truly a win-win situation.

Another extra point for the school keeping their connection with former #1 draft pick and the greatest player in program history, Doug Collins. The Redbirds play on Doug Collins Court and there is a statue outside Redbird Arena featuring Collins and his coach, Will Robinson. All programs need to know and celebrate their history while looking to the future.

One last extra point for the unique Teflon roof of Redbird Arena, it provides unique lighting for games and also separates the interior of the building from some other sterile arena interiors.

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