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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

XL Center - Connecticut Huskies Basketball

Photos by Paul Baker & Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

XL Center FANFARE Score: 4.00

XL Center 1 Civic Center Plaza Hartford, CT 06103

Year Opened: 1975 Capacity: 15,564


The Basketball Capital of the World

During the pregame introductions for UConn basketball at the XL Center, the PA announcer calls Hartford “the basketball capital of the world.” Before you dismiss this statement as just hyperbole, consider that the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams have combined for 15 national championships, 25 final four appearances and 64 NCAA tournament appearances. The birthplace of basketball, Springfield, Massachusetts, is located just a half hour to the north.

The men’s and women’s basketball teams both play a portion of their home schedules here in downtown Hartford, 21 miles from the UConn campus. 18 Huskies have been named as All-Americans. 37 UConn alumni have made it to the NBA, and 30 have played in the WNBA.

The XL Center, formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center, is the largest arena in the state of Connecticut. It was originally built in 1974 as part of a downtown project that included an adjacent mall, convention center, office space, hotel and parking garage. Some people still refer to the XL Center as “The Mall,” even though the mall portion of the complex was demolished in 2004 and replaced with a 36-story residential tower.

In addition to UConn basketball, the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack and UConn’s men’s hockey team call the XL Center home.

Food & Beverage 5

The XL Center offers a menu that balances traditional arena fare with local flavor. Depending on your appetite, you can visit Chicken Fry Fry (featuring, you guessed it, chicken tenders and fries), Fresh Classics (sausage and pepper sandwiches and nachos), Grill Masters (burgers), or hot dog nation (yep, hot dogs). Chick-fil-A operates a cart selling their legendary sandwiches. Dunkin’ Donuts operates a pair of stands featuring their signature coffee and baked goods. Pepsi products are featured at the XL Center.

Visiting fans looking for a bit of local flavor should seek out Ted’s Cheeseburgers, which features gourmet burgers cooked in a style unique to Central Connecticut: they are steamed. Steaming the burgers creates a very juicy burger with a taste you won’t find anywhere else. Also, local favorite Bear’s Barbeque operates a small stand selling brisket, pulled pork and their popular mac and cheese. Randy’s Wooster House of Pizza operates a stand serving up their legendary slices.

Fans looking for an adult beverage will be pleased to find stands dedicated specifically to alcohol sales. In addition to national brands including Sam Adams, Budweiser, Coors Light and Blue Moon, several local craft brands are featured at the XL Center. Brews from City Steam, Two Roads and Thomas Hooker Brewery are sold throughout the arena.

Atmosphere 4

UConn is undoubtedly the premier college basketball program in New England and the game day atmosphere at the XL Center gives local fans a rare taste of big-time college hoops.

All the standard college game day elements can be found here, including the pep band, cheerleading squad and dance team. The school’s mascot, Jhonathan, can be found roaming the arena interacting with fans. There is a large video board hanging at center court that is put to good use with replays and game stats. It can be a little difficult to read with all the graphics on the screen. Shout outs to UConn alumni in the stands are guaranteed to whip the crowd into a frenzy.

Fans at the XL Center are knowledgeable and passionate about the Huskies. They don’t need a whole lot of encouragement to fill the arena with noise. All the fans in the arena stand until the Huskies score their first basket of the game. There are contests and giveaways during play stoppages and t-shirt tosses, dance cams and the like to keep casual fans involved.

Neighborhood 5

Hartford is rarely thought of as a destination city, but the XL Center’s location in downtown Hartford gives it an excellent rating. The area around the arena features numerous restaurants, shops and attractions. Pratt Street, located directly across the street from the XL Center, is lined with many excellent pubs and restaurants. City Steam Tap Room is located a block away from the XL Center on Main Street and features a legendary craft beer lineup. Black-Eyed Sally’s on Asylum Street features live music and excellent barbeque. Hartford suffers from a bad reputation, but the area around the XL Center is safe and walkable.

For fans interested in exploring the downtown area, there are some attractions nearby worth mentioning. The Old State House is located a few blocks from the XL Center and contains exhibits on Hartford history. Tours are discounted for AAA members and will cost history buffs a mere $3. The State Capitol and Bushnell Park are popular attractions located nearby. The Mark Twain House and Museum and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center are both located just a short drive from the downtown area.

Fans 4

The Huskies draw impressive crowds to downtown Hartford. Crowds of over 10,000 are the norm. The school schedules their marquee matchups at the XL Center to take advantage of the building’s capacity, which is larger than the Gampel Pavilion. The crowd consists of a mix of locals and alumni. Despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an abundance of younger fans in attendance, parents can feel comfortable bringing the family to a Husky game.

The student section is a bit smaller than expected, but with the campus located 21 miles from downtown Hartford, perhaps this isn’t a surprise after all. Despite their best efforts to inject some noise into the XL Center, in an arena of this size, their effect is negligible.

Access 3

The XL Center is in downtown Hartford, easily reached via either Interstate 84 or 91. The arena is only a few blocks away from either highway. Traffic in the city is often difficult to navigate, particularly for weekday games. Be sure to give yourself extra time to arrive, as both highways back up regularly around rush hour and beyond.

There are almost 50 parking lots and garages in the downtown area, all within walking distance of the XL Center. If you want to plan ahead, the XL Center website has a link to the downtown map here. In addition to these paid spots, on-street parking is readily available around the XL Center. Meters are not in operation on weekends.

Once inside the XL Center, fans will enter a spacious lobby. This area was once part of the Civic Center Mall but is mostly empty space now. The ticket office is located here, as well as access to the attached parking garage and the Coliseum Club on the second level. After a brief security check, fans will enter the cramped concourses of the arena.

All seats in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum consist of folding stadium chairs. The seating bowl at the XL Center is very steeply pitched, ensuring great sight lines no matter where you sit.

Despite numerous renovations over the years, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum maintains its cramped and narrow concourses. There is only one concourse at the XL Center, and the restrooms are on the small side. Getting around can be very difficult, especially during halftime. Plan your trips to concession stands or restrooms wisely.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets are very affordable for UConn games at the XL Center if you don’t mind sitting up high in the seating bowl. Select upper level seats are sold for only three dollars. The majority of the seats here range in price from $18-$38.

Parking in the lots and garages surrounding the XL Center can be had for ten dollars with on-street parking available for fans wishing to search for it. On-street parking is free after 6 PM on weekdays and all day long on weekends.

Concession prices are a bit on the high side, particularly for premium items, but are not out of line with other venues in the area.

Extras 3

Banners-if you like banners, you will love the XL Center. Banners honoring the 15 University of Connecticut National basketball champions (women’s and men's combined) hang from the rafters on one end of the arena. On the other end of the arena are banners for the UConn Husky hockey team, the AHL’s Wolf Pack and the Whalers.

Whalers-The XL Center doesn’t ignore its past as the home of the Hartford Whalers. Banners honoring Whalers division championships, retired numbers, and the Howe family, who all played together in Hartford, hang from the rafters. In addition, the lobby contains a large mural of some of the highlights of Hartford’s professional hockey history.

Free programs are given out to all fans, lineup sheets are available for a dollar and there is an area of the lobby blocked of for the sale of UConn souvenirs.

Final Thoughts

The XL Center has its share of critics, particularly those who feel that Hartford deserves another NHL team. Countless studies and plans for a new downtown arena have circulated for decades, making this arena a political hot potato, but the XL Center continues on. With the school holding many of their marquee games downtown, the XL Center gives New England hoops fans a rare taste of big-time college basketball.

Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.


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