Welsh-Ryan Arena - Northwestern Wildcats
Photos by Marc Viquez Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.42
Welsh-Ryan Arena 2705 Ashland Ave Evanston, IL 60208
Year Opened: 1952
New to the Old at the Welsh-Ryan Arena
The Welsh-Ryan Arena has been the home to the Northwestern Wildcats basketball team since 1952 and went through a $110 million renovation during the 2017-2018 academic year that resulted in a complete transformation of the interior of the building. However, much of its charm is still intact, which should keep things familiar to long-time fans.
The building is a basketball field house, first and foremost. It creates an intimate feeling in the 7,039-seat gymnasium, the smallest in the Big Ten. The gym has seen many renovations, most notably in 1983 when it gained its new name Welsh-Ryan Arena in honor of the principal donor's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Welsh. However, the current renovations ripped out the foldable bleacher seating in favor of individual purple chair backs, suites, and massive spacing on the concourses.
Basketball was introduced to Northwestern in 1901, and the school hosted the first NCAA Tournament in 1939 at its former gymnasium. Surprisingly, the Wildcats have only made one tournament appearance in 2017 but have appeared 7-times in the NIT.
Food & Beverage 4
Numerous concession stands offer a limited selection of items but are rather upscale to the world of college basketball. The Wildcat Burger is a double smash burger with provolone cheese, fried onions, slaw, and barbecue sauce and served on a pretzel bun. There is also a single smash burger served with traditional toppings of pickles, onions, and Wildcat sauce.
Fans can also select two regional favorites: pizza puffs and Italian beef with hot giardiniera. The chicken tenders are served with barbecue, ranch, and honey mustard sauce, the spicy chicken sandwich is topped with ranch coleslaw, and there are also waffle fries.
Photo by Marc Viquez Stadium Journey
The traditional items include pretzels, nachos, popcorn, chips, candy, and hot dogs. Pepsi products are available by bottle or fountain. Northwestern also serves beer and wine at the Welsh-Ryan Arena, just the tenth school in the conference to do so, beginning in January 2023.
Keep in mind that all purchases are cashless, and menu prices don’t include sales tax. The prices are $4.99 for a hot dog and top at $13.99 for a Wildcat Burger. There are 36 points of sale inside the building.
As I said earlier in this review, the building is a basketball gymnasium, and that is evident as you walk around the court with great views from almost anywhere in the building. There is still the charm of the old venue that has been incorporated into areas of chic modernism. It can be seen throughout the building from the main lobby entrance to the concourse walls.
The school colors of purple and white are dominant, with artistic murals adorning the walls, alongside the former student-athletes photos and information. The lobby has a digital presentation of Northwestern Hall of Famers. The center video scoreboard adds new touches to the gym.
The original roof was left intact and refurbished. The steel trusses at the corners and the far end of the top concourse are a splendid reminder of the building’s history, along with the new balcony seating hanging over both ends of the baskets. Natural light fills the concourse with windows with automatic translucent blackout shades.
Photo by Marc Viquez Stadium Journey
There's plenty of room to move around the concourses, which are wide and ADA-accessible. There are five elevators and staircases at each corner of the building. The perimeter of the lower concourse offers table ledges to keep your food and drink.
It is a modern-looking facility that was missing a few amenities, such as a cheer and dance team, banners, and a mascot. Perhaps it was due to our visit in between semesters of the school year. However, the seating behind each basket puts the fans within fingertips of the play on the court.
Welsh-Ryan Arena is located between the football stadium Ryan Field and the baseball stadium Miller Park. Downtown Evanston is worth a visit, situated 2 miles from the arena. The trendy district has plenty of small shops, local and chain restaurants, and bars. Casual places for food include Koco Table, Giordano’s, Prairie Moon Restaurant, and Smylie Brothers Brewing Company.
Photo by Marc Viquez Stadium Journey
However, just across the street from the sports complex is Mustards Last Stand, a little joint with Northwestern memorabilia, offering Chicago-style hot dogs and other items. Ten Mile House is next door and serves American fare, while Hewn is a local bakery known for sandwiches and pastries.
Downtown Evanston is most easily accessible to the CTA Purple Line via the Davis stop. Welsh-Ryan Arena is a quick walk from the Central Purple Line stop. Walking through Evanston is safe and can be somewhat scenic, especially if you take the lakefront path through campus. The Ryan Fieldhouse has picturesque views of Lake Michigan from inside the complex.
You can count on a good number of people at home games due to the number of alumni living in the Chicago area. Capacity crowds can be expected for Big 10 match-ups against rivals Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin. The student section was not available during our visit due to the time of year, but the game felt more like a professional environment.
Evanston is located north of Chicago and has a scenic drive along Lakeshore Boulevard from the south along Lake Michigan. The campus is a fair distance from I-94 and Highway 41, so be prepared to travel through town if you arrive by car. You will hit the city, suburban, and highway traffic within a few minutes of your journey.
Public transit is also an option, taking the Purple line train and getting off at the Central stop. From there, your walk is a little less than a mile. There is sufficient parking around the arena for a price, and you can look for parking on the street. The parking lot is shared with the football stadium and a short walk to the arena.
Inside the arena, fans are welcome to spacious staircases, wide-open concourses, and large bathrooms (up 270 percent before renovations). The concourses are accessible via five different elevators, and space is available for guests in wheelchairs and their parties.
Return on Investment 3
Ticket prices on the secondary market can go as low as $8 against early season matchups against non-rival opponents. Those prices will increase against conference opponents; expect prices to rise to $30-$50 for games against Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. They could go higher for games with Purdue and Illinois. However, prices will dip against the Big 10 teams from the east coast: Penn State, Rutgers, and Maryland.
The parking price is $20, but there are also street parking options depending on what day of the week you attend the game. The food prices are reasonable, but some items seem a tad high. However, Welsh-Ryan Arena is worth the visit when in Chicago.
The Welsh-Ryan Arena earns a point for its classic college basketball ambiance, which includes the restored roof and balcony seating. The second point is for the wide-open concourses that provide open views of the seating and court. A final point is the natural lighting that opens up the building, providing great views of the football stadium.
Follow all of Marc’s stadium journeys on Twitter @ballparkhunter and his YouTube channel. Email at Marc.Viquez@stadiumjourney.com