(Matt Allaire |
I’ve always had a weird relationship with the Dayton Flyers, because they’re practically up the road from Clifton, yet seem a world away. The two programs haven’t shared a conference since the Great Midwest days in 1995 and haven’t played at all since 2010 — before my freshman year at Cincinnati. Since then, Archie Miller has come to town and gotten the Flyers into the Top 25 in three of five seasons and past the Buckeyes and into the Elite Eight in 2014.
All of this from a program that I knew nothing about.
I decided enough was enough and I had to see what the Flyers were doing on Edwin C Moses Boulevard. I lucked into press passes and a court-side seat for the December 30 matchup with La Salle. I needed to take peek behind the curtain at UD Arena.
First off, there are a few things to know about UD Arena:
- It’s older than you think. The place opened in 1969 and has undergone multiple renovations — both major and minor — since then. I mention this because there’s no way you’d know this by looking at the outside. The thing looks like a halfpipe — which I’d say is pretty modern.
- Its age gives it a charm. It’s not quite Wrigley or Fenway, but any arena built in 1969 will have some quirks to it, regardless of how many times the university upgrades it (and they’ve upgraded it a bunch.) Some examples: The lower bowl sits underground. The tunnel to the press room and Flyer locker room is steeper than I’d want to sled down. There are poles that obstruct a few seats. The restaurant called the “Time Warner Cable Flight Deck” feels like it’s practically hanging from the roof above the court. Aside from a small aisleway separating the lower bowl from the upper seats, the stands start court-side and continue for approximately 60 rows into the upper reaches of the arena, all while maintaining an intimate feel.
- It’s a basketball lover’s arena. Fifth Third Arena — bless its heart — does a lot for UC. It hosts volleyball and basketball camps as well as thousands of graduates at commencement each semester. It was designed to be versatile. UD Arena was designed for basketball, and basketball only. The lower bowl sits really close to the court. I’m not sure I’d want to see a concert there, but it’s a great place to watch a basketball game.
- It’s a testament to what is possible when you remove all environmental charm from an arena. Is having Fifth Third Arena on campus a huge asset for UC? Absolutely. During the Flyers game, did I care that I was in a giant parking lot next to I-75? No way. UD Arena embodies a different athletic philosphy than what’s present at Cincinnati, but they do their thing really well. There’s a tradeoff when you take an arena off campus, and Dayton has fully exploited it.
- People are talking about leaving. Seriously. I heard some rumor of building a new arena on property just purchased by the university. As a Bearcat fan taking a siesta from the lovable airplane hangar in Clifton, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I’m not sure Dayton fans realize how good they have it. The arena has easily hosted more NCAA Tournament games (111) than any other arena in America, and there’s a reason for that.
The Dayton Flyers have perfected the art of supply and demand. I’ve been to the city of Dayton a number of times, and it’s a cool place with a lot going for it. Truly. That being said, there isn’t much competition for fan dollars. The closest thing the city has to a marquee pro team is the Dayton Dragons, the Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The closest FBS football team is the Miami RedHawks, more than 40 miles west in Oxford. The Dayton Flyers are the city’s hot ticket, and they know it.
I’d heard about this phenomenon, but I didn’t really believe it until I saw just under 13,000 fans fill the house for a Friday evening holiday matchup between the 9–3 Flyers and the 6–4 La Salle Explorers. This was not a marquee game, but Dayton has a loyal fan base, bolstered by the fact that there wasn’t anything “bigger” going on. When the Flyers have the right arena, the right head coach, and a decade of steady success, the people of Dayton go watch basketball. In droves. Their 2016 attendance was Top 25 nationally, ahead of programs like Texas, Ohio State, Michigan, West Virginia, UConn, Xavier, and, um, Cincinnati.
The game day operations people in Dayton have it figured out, and it made me really excited for the day Fifth Third Arena re-opens as a legitimate basketball venue. Among other things, four HD video boards sit in each corner of the arena, broadcasting stat graphics and instant (and I mean instant) replays to fans below. When it comes time for the Flyer starting lineup to be introduced, the lights turn off and pounding music meets spotlights with red and blue strobes. The place has all the trappings of a major venue. (Pro-tip: Try the roasted nuts. They’re addictive and amazing.)
The Flyers even had the halftime show figured out. The world-famous Zooperstars, who I’ve seen in Clifton before, held it down. They were great, as always.
In the social media climate of 2017, every program either has a thing or is doing something wrong. I recently wrote about how UC took “Gary Clark is a problem” and ran with it. Up in Dayton, they have LOWD. (Don’t overthink it, it’s just a goofy spelling of loud.)
I’ve been to more Bearcat basketball games than I can count, and I can testify that there’s loud, and then there’s LOUD. The Shoe gets on another level in the biggest moments of games against teams like Louisville, UConn, or Xavier. Every decent-sized basketball arena has an extra gear it hits in the biggest situations. Dayton simply gave a name to it. That’s what LOWD is. Against La Salle, I got a teaser when the Flyers closed the first half on a 23–7 run. I want to see it against a top opponent, because 13,000+ fans in an intimate venue can crank up the volume. I can’t imagine the likes of La Salle or Fordham look forward to playing in UD Arena.
As far as college arenas I’ve visited (not that many) Dayton is perhaps the best. It has amenities along with its charm. It’s cushy in the right places and simple in the right places. It’s weird, LOWD, blue, red, and awesome if you love basketball. The Flyers have a good thing going, and a lot of programs could learn a thing or two.
The view from the Time Warner Cable Flight Deck. It’s hard to get a true sense from the picture, but it truly feels like you’re above the court. This would be a crazy place to watch a game from.
View from the Flight Deck, looking towards the court. Yes, that’s the scoreboard you’re eye-level with. There are a couple rows of seats (with comfortable chairs) just outside the restaurant, but the whole place was incredibly nice.
A cool touch. The construction company that worked on UD Arena has its own luxury box on the side of the arena opposite the Flight Deck. The bar tables in the box have the arena blueprints on them.
The view from the concourse down to the court. This is the student section, with the band on the left down by the court.
Fan favorite Scoochie Smith puts up some shots before team warmups.
The tunnel (much steeper than it looks) leading from the locker room (and media room) to the court.
The view court-side seats on press row will get you.
Flyer forward Charles Cooke puts up a free throw in the second half.
Scoochie Smith speaks with reporters following the win.
Head coach Archie Miller meets with the media.
I’d love to make this a series. If you have a connection at a basketball program in the Cincinnati region, I’d love to come check things out and poke around on game day. All I know is Bearcat basketball, so the opportunity to explore another program was eye-opening and exciting. Show me what you do.
A huge thanks goes out to the folks at Flyer Faithful for the invitation, Matt Allaire for being my connection, Grant Kelly (and family) for the incridible hospitality in lending their courtside seats, and the University of Dayton athletic department for giving me access to the arena before, during, and after the game. I had a great time.