Photos by Afi Ahmadi ,Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
1239 Washington Ave
Albany, NY 12206
Year Opened: 1992 Capacity: 4,538
Great Danes of Albany
As a Division, I basketball conference outside of the Power 5, the America East Conference is generally defined as a mid-major. The reality, however, is that the level of basketball can more appropriately be categorized as low-major, as the competitiveness of its basketball programs simply cannot keep up with the Atlantic-10s and Horizon Leagues of the mid-major world. The primary reason for this distinction tends to reside in the bottom half of conference, where the bad teams are very bad, consequently dragging down the conference’s reputation as a whole.
The University of Albany has taken the conference lead in trying to reverse that image. A model of consistency over the past decade, the rafters at SEFCU Arena are adorned by the numerous banners of success for both the men’s and women’s basketball program, all of which has occurred within the past 10 years.
Food & Beverage 2
SEFCU Arena generally provides typical small-arena offerings (pretzels, hot dogs, popcorn, chicken tenders, LOTS of candy, all costing anywhere from $3 – $5). The venue offers fountain Coca-Cola products. There is one concession area, with two lines, located on the right side of the lobby as you enter through the main doors. Because all of the food is pre-prepared and pre-wrapped, the line moves quickly enough. Credit and debit cards are accepted.
There is a hidden “Beer Garden” down a hallway to the right as you face the concession area. It’s not a secret (there is a sign directing you to it), it’s just not obvious or plainly visible from the lobby. The use of the term “garden” is stretched as far as conceivably possible here. It’s basically just an undecorated room with a bar at one end and a series of roundtables. Nonetheless, it’s a nice alternative if you’re of age.
SEFCU Arena appears to be the right size and has the proper ambiance for this level of basketball, but it also has a couple of noteworthy deficiencies. The scoreboard is the primary culprit. Outdated and tired, it only offers options for two teams: “Albany” and “Visitor.” The scoreboard also lacks any space to identify current player scoring or timeouts remaining, a staple most fans have become accustomed to at most other venues. There is a large projector screen in one corner offering occasional replays and halftime statistics, but overall one would expect to have certain information available at a glance, which simply does not exist. It also doesn’t help matters that the public address announcer rarely provides the identity of the person committing the foul or even a scorer. Perhaps there was an issue with the microphone or audio during my most recent visit because the lack of information was very noticeable.
Albany is never going to get confused for a quaint college town, but for the purpose of attending a college basketball game, you could certainly do much worse. There are ample hotels and eateries just a few minutes from the arena, so no complaints about not being able to find a room or get a table. In addition to standard chain restaurants that lurk around campuses, the locals generally recommend favorites Across the Street Pub, and Maggie’s. Each offer pub fare while providing the opportunity to watch games. A more upscale nearby option is Barcelona, a Mediterranean restaurant, but reservations are recommended if a large crowd is anticipated for the game.
For a small, one-bid conference, most America East teams tend to have a bit of a die-hard following, and Albany is no exception. For the most part, the fanbase is made up of community members and alums. When students do attend, they generally sit in the “Danger Zone” (named for the Albany mascot, the Great Dane), which is located under the basket closest to the opposing bench. Students generally generate the extra emotion which can be lacking for a regular season conference game. Venue intimacy gets an assist in keeping the arena loud throughout.
The arena is an easy find on campus, accessible via near-parallel streets on each side. It’s also just a short drive through campus when coming off the highway, making access a non-issue.
SEFCU Arena provides a couple of parking lots containing ample space for a nominal fee. It would be difficult not to find a relatively convenient parking spot. Bathrooms inside the arena are convenient and easy to find (immediately to the right and left as you enter the lobby).
Return on Investment 4
Seats with chair backs are located in the center and the first few rows behind each bench, and cost $18 per ticket, while the remaining reserved seats are $12. As noted, the food and beverage are fairly priced. While nobody will mistake the quality of play with its major conference brethren, the America East is certainly a competitive conference within itself, and the quality of the product on the floor makes the ticket cost almost nominal.
The most notable halftime promotion during my recent visit was a game of musical chairs, where contestants were each given a basketball at center court, and dribbled around a series of chairs. When the music stopped, the participants had to dribble to the nearest basket, make a layup, and return to the center to take a seat. Of course, when the players disbursed, chairs were removed from the middle, leaving one or more contestants without a seat upon return. This took place for approximately five to six rounds until a winner was crowned, walking away with a flat-screen TV. As far as halftime entertainment goes, it was quite engaging. All other promotions and t-shirt tosses are nothing that a regular basketball spectator doesn’t become numb to after a while, so such items fail to stand out as extra entertainment.
Much of the entertainment slack is adequately absorbed by a solid pep band and dance team.
Unquestionably, the amenities at SEFCU Arena need modernization. On the plus side, when the energy level is high, you feel like you’re in a Hoosiers-type setting. Conversely, a Hoosiers-type setting doesn’t really pass in 2016. For the conference’s premier men’s and women’s basketball programs, a little investment seems justified.
It’s unclear whether such changes would garner more student support, but it would certainly improve the overall fan experience.