- Sean MacDonald
JMA Wireless Dome – Syracuse Orange
Photos by Shutterstock and Sean MacDonald, Lloyd Brown, Andy Pregler Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
JMA Wireless Dome 900 Irving Ave Syracuse, NY 13244
Year Opened: 1980
There’s No Place Like Dome
Syracuse bills itself as New York’s college team and if that is the case, then the Carrier Dome in New York’s college arena. Not only does the Orange football team play here, but so does its nationally recognized lacrosse team. However, the most famous denizen of the dome is the basketball squad that is now the 6th-winningest program in NCAA history.
Over the years, many future NBA stars have played under Coach Jim Boeheim, with the most notable perhaps Carmelo Anthony, who led the team to the 2003 championship. NCAA violations announced in 2015 led to a loss of scholarships and hurt the reputation of both Boeheim and the school, but they rebounded to make a Final Four Appearance in 2016.
It looks like the worst is over, so we paid a visit to the Carrier Dome to see if the experience of attending an Orange basketball game has changed.
Note: The venue's name changed from Carrier Dome to JMA Wireless Dome in 2022.
Food & Beverage 3
“The Dome” was opened in 1980 and the concession stands seem to have changed little since then. Old style menu boards list typical stadium fare and little else. A slice of pizza ($5), German frank or coney ($4), and sausage subs with peppers and onions ($7) are all popular items. Nachos sell for $7.50 and you can get sauerkraut or extra cheese for $1.50. Snacks include pretzels ($4), popcorn ($3.50), and caramel corn ($4.50).
There are a couple of specialty items, but you will have to look around for them. An ice cream stand offers three sizes in various flavors from $4-$5, while pizza logs can be found behind Section 121. Another stand sells chili for $6 and pulled pork sandwiches for $8.
Despite being a college venue, beer is available. Domestic drafts (Bud and Bud Light) are $7 while craft brews will cost a dollar more. The unique beverage here is an $8 wine slush, made with wine from the nearby Finger Lakes region.
Pepsi is the soft drink provider with bottles costing $4, the same as a regular fountain drink. A large cup (32 ounces) is $5.50. Coffee, hot chocolate, and milk are also available.
There is not a lot of variety for such a large venue, but the prices are reasonable–a fair tradeoff.
Only one-half of the building is used for basketball, with the court being set up around where one end zone would be for football. The permanent seats thus take up 3 quarters of the court, with a few sections of temporary seats on the far side. There are also courtside seats all around.
There are three levels of seating at the Dome, but with suites at either end of the court sitting at the same level as the second deck, even the upper bowl is not that far away from the action. All seats are benches, with the two lower levels having seatbacks, while the upper deck offering more traditional bench seating. Season ticket holders use orange seats to make their visit a bit more comfortable, and these seats remain in place even after the game, adding a bit of color to the scene.
The other half of the stadium is the Toyota Fun Zone, where you can play games and look at advertising booths before the game. There are permanent video boards at the top of the dome, and a smaller scoreboard behind the temporary seats. Player names are not displayed, but game stats are continuously displayed on ribbon boards.
What makes this place thoroughly enjoyable is the energy put into the events during the breaks in the action, by both the fans and the cheering sections. The band (known as the Sour Sitrus Society) is behind the basket closer to the Syracuse bench, just in front of the student section. The cheerleaders stand in front of the band, and they keep things lively throughout.
There is also a dance team, who collectively accompany the national anthem using sign language. Of course, they also get out on the floor to entertain fans. During the final media timeout, some of the male cheerleaders run C-U-S-E flags around the perimeter of the court and then right through it, which really gets the crowd going during crunch time.
Everything is well coordinated and you shouldn’t leave your seat during the timeouts as you might miss something that would get you pumped for when the action begins again.
The dome is energized from well before the national anthem, and of course, during, when O is shouted out midway through in honor of the Orange. At tip-off, fans stand and clap until the Orange make a basket. From there, the energy continues to build, and things can get wild if the home team is winning. It is really impressive that they can pull this off in a dome, which is usually a lifeless venue.
The Carrier Dome is on campus, and there are a few bars nearby, with Marshall Street the primary location. Faegan’s Cafe and Varsity Pizza are two good bets here. If you want something a bit more varied, you’ll have to drive downtown, where Empire Brewing and Blue Tusk, among many other establishments, can be found. Of course, no visit to Syracuse would be complete without a stop at Dinosaur BBQ, located at the corner of Willow and Franklin. You’ll probably have to wait, but it will be worth it.
If you happen to be traveling with a shopaholic, Destiny USA is a good spot to leave them while you check out the game. This large mall is a couple of miles north on I-81 and also has a movie theater.
A superb contingent of orange-clad supporters turns the dome into a surprisingly loud place. They stand at the beginning of the game, and often during as well. They know their team well and cheer them on with passion. A typical crowd is 25,000, and that can get upwards of 30,000 when a top opponent visits. It doesn’t appear that fans get up to get a beer during the action; they are here to watch the game and really make the Carrier Dome a great place to visit.
Syracuse is about 4 hours north of New York City along I-81, and just over 2 hours east of Buffalo along I-90 via the New York Thruway. The Carrier Dome is located on the campus, an architectural outlier surrounded by beautiful old buildings. It is right next to I-81 and quite easy to access from both the north or southbound lanes. If you are using the Thruway, you will take I-81 south about 3 miles to access the campus.
University parking lots charge $15 (garages are $25) but avoid them and drive to Ashworth Place, a block north of Genesee Street. One side of Ashworth allows parking from 6 pm on odd days to 6 pm on even days, the other vice versa, so you will always be able to park here. If you don’t remember what day it is, just follow everybody else’s lead. It is about a 15-minute walk from this area to the game.
Despite the large crowd, entry to the stadium is very easy due to the fact there are over a dozen entrances, both at the upper and lower levels. Fans spread out and there are no lines for the most part. There is a cursory security check with a wand, but no metal detectors to make everyone move quickly to the concourse.
Inside, there are two levels of concourses with the upper concourse leading to both the second and third seating bowls. Crowds will form, especially when concession lines move into walking areas. The entire concourse is open even though the seating sections on the other side of the stadium is not open, it might be a good idea to take a walk around if you need a bit of space.
You will notice Club 44 behind sections 108 and 109. This is a membership-only area that looks to be quite interesting but is off limits to the average fan.
Exiting the stadium might take a minute or two as you are directed to the revolving door. Meanwhile, restrooms are the old style trough type (for men obviously). There were no lineups, but I would guess they do occur during halftime when most fans leave their seats.
Return on Investment 3
The cheapest seat here is $45 for ACC opponents, a bit pricey for the end zone in the third deck of a dome, even though the experience can be thrilling. Prices go up from there, with seats in the temporary area costing $125 for a premium ticket that includes a donation.
You might be better off looking on the secondary market or buying from a reseller out front. Fortunately, food is relatively cheap here, so you can have a decent afternoon for just over $100 for two, but this is still too much for college hoops.
Take a walk around the concourse and check out all the history on display. The 2003 championship trophy is in one case all by itself, but there are others that contain a tribute to the Syracuse Eight, memorabilia from football seasons past, and Ernie Davis’ Heisman Trophy. Inside, there are banners honoring lacrosse, football, and basketball heroes of the past. Outside, you can find a statue of Davis on the way to the quad.
The number 31 is now at center court to honor Pearl Washington, who passed away in April 2016.
There is a rainwater harvesting system that collects rain that runs off the roof and stores it for use in washrooms. You can see some of the machinery behind this as you walk along the concourse.
Another point for having the dance team use sign language for the national anthem, a nice touch.
The experience of seeing a Syracuse Orange game at the Carrier Dome is one that every college basketball fan should enjoy at least once. Domes are slowly disappearing because they are usually terrible places to watch a sporting event. Here, however, the opposite is true, due mostly to the fantastic fan base, but also to the unique setup where only half the venue is used. Syracuse is not the easiest place to get to, but if you are planning to be in the area during the hoops season, make sure to time your visit so that you can add the Carrier Dome to your list of visited venues.