- Matt Finnigan
Clune Arena – Air Force Falcons
Photos by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Clune Arena 2168 Field House Dr Colorado Springs, CO 80840
Year Opened: 1968
Air Force Hoops
There’s been a lot of talk about “hygge” lately. It’s a Scandinavian concept that means coziness, commonly in interior design, that emerged as a trend in North America in the late 2010s. People look for hygge on a cold, overcast day. Designers of Clune Arena, the United States Air Force Academy’s 5,843-seat basketball venue, foresaw a need for hygge and created a snug atmosphere when the building opened in 1968. That atmosphere eschews window seats, woolen pashminas, and other Danish sensibilities in favor of seating so close to the action that fans might feel like that they are in the game – even when sitting in the building’s farthest seat from the floor.
Basketball is a complex sport. Watching the Falcons play at Clune enables fans not only to see the game from a close vantage but also to hear the players communicate with each other. It’s a cool way to watch college basketball. No mind that Air Force hoops can’t provide the same pageantry as the Falcon football team, as neither live falcons nor stealth bombers can fly safely inside. Clune Arena sits at 7,080 feet above sea level. With that altitude and, yes, a cozy arena, the “Zoomies” enjoy a distinct home court advantage that doesn’t involve mulling spices or any other hallmarks of hygge.
Food & Beverage 3
At its main concession stand, Clune Arena has the basics and not much else: hot dogs ($5), pretzels ($6), popcorn ($7), and nachos ($7). Famous Dave’s also sells BBQ products at AFA basketball games. Part of the larger Cadet Field House, Clune shares its concession stand with the Academy’s hockey team. The Air Force Academy is a Pepsi campus. Coca-Cola fans should plan accordingly.
There’s also beer and canned cocktails. The “Wild Brew Yonder” stand sells 16-ounce cans of Bud Light, as well as 12-ounce cans of Pikes Peak Brewing’s Ocean of Clouds IPA and Blue Mesa Tropical Blonde, along with Breckenridge Avalanche, all for $8. Twelve-ounce cans of Cutwater Vodka Mule and Nutrl Vodka Sodas sell for $10.
Clune Arena is but one tenant in the five-story, 168,000-square foot Cadet Field House. The Field House is divided into three areas: Clune, Cadet Ice Arena (home of Air Force hockey), and a multipurpose area that the Academy uses for other sports that include indoor track, wrestling, fencing, gymnastics, and lacrosse. A concourse with restrooms and concession areas runs north-to-south between Clune and the Cadet Ice Arena. Windows to the north of both arenas look into the multipurpose area.
A walkway circles the seating bowl, about halfway between the floor below and the top of the arena above. Reserved seats are individual, numbered chairs, while general admission seating are wooden bleachers with built-in seatbacks. Clune has few bad seats, primarily those in the end zones that are obstructed by the baskets, and their backboards and stanchions. In 2018, a new multi-million dollar scoreboard and the LED ribbon boards were installed. These favorably impact the game-night experience, as does a high-quality sound system.
The Academy’s “neighborhood” is difficult to evaluate as the Academy is not a traditional college; it’s a service academy. It isn’t located near a nightlife district like Iowa State’s Campustown or Arizona State’s Mill Avenue. Air Force has a campus that’s seemingly made for the cover of a travel brochure, set against the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.
The campus does not offer much in the way of dining and does not offer anything in the way of nightlife. However, there are plenty of options nearby. One of Colorado’s several In-N-Out Burger locations is a 12-minute drive from Clune, located at 1840 Democracy Point, Colorado Springs, CO, 80908. If you seek another regional, fast-food burger chain, there’s a Whataburger almost next door to In-N-Out (1310 Interquest Parkway, Colorado Springs, CO, 80908). Downtown Colorado Springs and its numerous restaurants and bars is only a 20-minute drive from the arena.
A new, four-diamond hotel is under construction just outside the campus’s north gate. Until it opens in 2024, there are many hotels in close proximity to the Academy. The Hampton Inn & Suites Colorado Springs-Air Force Academy/I-25 North (1307 Republic Drive, Colorado Springs, CO, 80921) and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Colorado Springs/AFA/Northgate (9856 Federal Drive, Colorado Springs, CO, 80921) are among two of the closest hotels to campus.
Things can get noisy inside Clune, even with less than a full house. The arena’s small size amplifies the crowd noise. When the game goes the Falcons’ way, fans get loud. This, along with Clune’s elevation above sea level (almost 2,000 feet higher than Denver), creates a distinctive home-court advantage.
Reaching Clune Arena might seem difficult. It’s not. The first stop for any event at the Air Force Academy is the security gate that marks the campus’s entrance. Guards check IDs and move traffic quickly through the process. From there, a three-mile awaits. It’s less than a five-minute jaunt and directions are well-marked for those of you who are slow in adopting GPS technology. Staff helps guide cars into the large parking lot to the east of Clune Arena.
The building’s concourses have sufficient room to maneuver, though some of the aisles around the seating bowl can get narrow just before the start and end of each half.
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices start at $15 for a general admission ticket, ranging to $30, depending on the opponent. As a point of comparison, the most expensive seat for the Falcons’ February 10, 2023, game against perennial Mountain West Conference contender New Mexico sold for $30 for a reserved seat while the most expensive seat for the March 4, 2023, game against San Jose State sold for $23.
Because of Clune Arena’s size and design, there are very few seats with bad sightlines. The Academy’s ticket office does not pile fees and charges onto a ticket purchase and parking is free for games at Clune Arena, so attending an Air Force game doesn’t cost a fortune.
Clune Arena earns a bonus point for having what all venues should have: water bottle filling stations around the concourse. There is a surprising dearth of these, even at major sports venues (we’re looking at you, Denver Nuggets). These are a modern convenience with obvious environmental benefits. As commentators have noted, it’s a real bummer to have to fill a water bottle in 2023 at a drinking fountain.
Another point, and another reason to catch a Falcons’ basketball game, for the Air Force Academy Drum and Bugle Corps. The Corps deftly provides music during breaks in play. Be sure to catch its rendition of “The U.S. Air Force,” which many people know as “Wild Blue Yonder.”
In 1997, Clune hosted the boys’ McDonald’s All-American Game, featuring some of the country’s top high school senior basketball players. Several familiar names played in that game, such as Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Jarron and Jason Collins, Shane Battier, and Metta World Peace (then known as Ron Artest). Basketball legend Tracy McGrady was supposed to play in this game but did not. McGrady wanted his mother and grandmother to attend but airfare from their home in Florida to Colorado Springs totaled more than $1,000 apiece. This prevented them from attending the game so McGrady opted out of it. A few weeks after the game, the Toronto Raptors selected McGrady ninth overall in the 1997 NBA Draft. He was a seven-time NBA All-Star with the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets, a two-time NBA scoring champion, and an inductee to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. For this unusual historical note, Clune Arena earns another point.
A Falcons game at the Air Force Academy’s Clune Arena is a cozy affair. Not in the cabin socks-meets-mulling spices-meets flannel way but in the close to the action-meets great sight lines kind of way. With modest ticket prices and reasonable concession stand prices, fans can enjoy Mountain West Conference hoops without a mortgage.