Photos by Steve Ohnsman, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Read Fieldhouse/University Arena 2009 Howard St Kalamazoo, MI 49008
Year Opened: 1957
Welcome to The Zoo
Western Michigan men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, indoor track and field, and gymnastics teams all compete at Read Fieldhouse/University Arena in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Broncos have been playing at the 5,421-seat arena that was built in 1957. It is just north of Stadium Drive, across the street from WMU’s football/baseball/softball fields.
The building was rededicated in December 1963 after long-time basketball coach Herbert W. (Buck) Read who coached WMU for 28 seasons amassing a 345 -169 record. He was one of the first Midwest coaches to adopt the ‘fast break’ style of play and his 1929-30 team finished the season with a perfect 17-0 record. At the time of renaming the building, there were plans to increase capacity to 9,000.
The arena has seen multiple improvements the past decade that included a brand new court for the 2015-16 season, which connects the university with the Kalamazoo community, new LED lighting, and a state of the art sound system. There is also a strong emphasis on “The Zoo,” a take-off on the city’s name and the student cheering section at one end of the arena.
The Broncos play in the Mid-America Conference and have captured 9 regular season titles and appeared in 4 NCAA Final Four Tournaments. The 1976 team made it all the way to the Sweet 16 before losing to Marquette 62-57 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Broncos last made the tournament in 2014.
Food & Beverage 2
The concession stands are located behind each basket and there have been a few food stands offering specialty items added the past few seasons. The stands offer Pepsi products at $2-$4, hot dogs $4, pretzel with cheese sauce $5, nachos $7, Italian sausage $5, cheeseburger $6, barbecue chicken $7, and ice cream for $3. The auxiliary stands have fresh roasted nuts for $4-$6 and a special prime rib sandwich at $6-$8. The stands are relatively small but as long as the crowd size is the typical 2,000 or so, the lines move reasonably well. Alcoholic beverages are not sold at the arena.
Average attendance through 7 games this 2018-2019 season is 1,730 at a 5,421-capacity building. An excellent and enthusiastic pep band sits beneath an overhang, so their sound is powerful and dynamic. The stadium has two levels with all services on the ground floor. Some individual seats are available behind the benches and others are bleacher style. A four-sided video board sits over the center court while a scoreboard with player data and the game clock are behind each basket.
Western Michigan Band, Photo by Steve Ohnsman, Stadium Journey
Upon entering the arena, fans immediately see the impressive WMU Hall of Fame where an extensive display of individual plaques tell the story of great athletes and coaches of the past. The basketball program itself has been in existence since 1913.
At timeouts and halftime, they offer students the chance to win prizes if they make different shots. During our visit a $10,000 prize was offered if a student made a shot from half court, he missed. The school’s dance and cheerleading squads provide excellent entertainment. The WMU mascot Buster the Bronco is very active and can be found all over the arena. When the arena is full, the sound level is amazing.
Given the location on a university campus, there are plenty of restaurants and bars available nearby, including the University Roadhouse, Bruno’s Pizza and Waldo’s Campus Tavern. In the general downtown area, about a mile away, well-rated restaurants include Rustica for French/European dining, Ray-Ray’s Italian Beef and Sausage, Shawarma King for Middle Eastern fare, and the Old Goat Tavern.
In recent years, Kalamazoo has gained a reputation for its many breweries. You can’t go wrong with any of them: a few very popular choices are Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, One Well Brewery, Final Gravity, Latitude 42 and Green Door.
Visitors can enjoy the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, the Air Zoo in Portage, and the Gilmore Auto Museum is a 30-minute drive in Hickory Corners.
The student section (aka “The Zoo”) is on the second level behind one basket. They are a relatively small, lively bunch. Typical crowds of 1,700 plus fans create a surprising level of cheering in the 5,421 capacity arena. WMU has an ardent, knowledgeable group of alumni who support the team and freely share their support and opinions. The school puts on a high level of quality video/sound/entertainment. Fans receive a free program which contains plenty of player and coach information. There is a table offering school garb. The game experience is much better when there are more fans in the house.
There are a number of free parking lots adjacent to the arena as well as across the street near the softball field. Given its location on campus, the signage is somewhat limited. Metro Transit provides bus service and the Kalamazoo Battle Creek International Airport is a few miles south. The ticket window is inside the only entrance on the east side. Enjoy the Wall of Fame before going to your seats. The arena staff is very welcoming and friendly.
Return on Investment 4
For Division I basketball, this is a great value. Ticket prices run $15-$22. A Pick Six plan ($66-$84) allows fans to select six games. I’d recommend the bleacher seats (bring a cushion) and are where fans can spread out and enjoy the game. No need to order in advance, either. The parking is free and reasonably priced concessions make it a bargain. All that considered, it is surprising that more people do not attend these games on a consistent basis.
The Fieldhouse gets one point for the school’s mascot Buster the Bronco who is terrific with the kids and very active all around the arena. The Fieldhouse receives another point for the pep band: great music and always a lively show. There is also one-half point each for the great value and professional game production.
The stage is set: great production, good quality of college basketball, reasonable prices, free parking, excellent mascot. All they need is more students and fans to attend, thus creating a boisterous atmosphere.