- Stephen Schmidt
First National Bank Arena – Arkansas State Red Wolves
Photo Courtesy of First National Bank
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
First National Bank Arena 217 Olympic Dr Jonesboro, AR 72401
Arkansas State Red Wolves website
First National Bank Arena website
Year Opened: 1987
Howling For Hoops
It’s been said that sport makes for great theater. A game at the Convocation Center at Arkansas State University reaffirms that statement perhaps more than any other arena in Division I college basketball. The set-up of the arena, which has been affectionately known as The Convo since it opened in 1987 as a multi-purpose facility in the truest sense, looks like the byproduct of having the seating from four theaters welded together with a stage area in the middle, with its lighted seating leading the way to rows of red seats. The movie theater effect was enhanced in 2012 when the original scoreboard in the middle of the building was replaced with four large HD video boards in each corner.
“I think I like the way it is now. It takes a little bit getting used to, but I like it better,” said longtime ASU alumnus Rick Gillette of the four screens. Gillette spoke of the building’s flexibility when it comes to catering to the entertainment needs of the community. “Anything from a rodeo to tractor pulls to basketball games to track meets. You name it,” he said. “It’s served it all.”
In addition to the four video boards, the other thing that sets The Convo apart is its quadrant system. The arena has no concourse that connects around the outside of the seating area. Instead it features four pod/quadrants (red, blue, yellow and green) that each consists of a set of bathrooms, a concession stand and then one specialty stand (either additional concession stands or souvenir stands). The layout makes it really simple to find a bathroom or a food stand, but perhaps the most difficult arena to find a quiet moment to sneak away to talk on the cell phone.
In Oct, 2017, the name of the venue was changed to First National Bank Arena after that company contributed $5 million to the Red Wolves Foundation.
Food & Beverage 3
The Convo has two traditional concession stands that feature items such as hot dogs ($3), Polish sausages ($3.25), hamburgers ($3.75), cheeseburgers ($4) and nachos ($3.50) – along with Coke products. Leading up to halftime a long line forms near the Lewis BBQ stand in the blue quadrant where selections include regular BBQ sandwiches ($5.25 regular / jumbo $6.50), BBQ bologna sandwiches ($5.25) and BBQ nachos ($5.25).
Another popular halftime destination is the yellow quadrant that features Lil Orbits donut stand (most popular items are the $5 powdered donuts) and a snow cone display, where the most requested flavor is homemade ice cream ($4).
The building mirrors the light tan brick of the entire university (all athletic facilities do as well). Most fans enter through the red quadrant, which is the closest one from the free general parking area. Those who wish to see the large “A State” logo facing them on the court should sit on the eastern side of the center, although there really is not a bad seat to be found. Even the highest seats in the corner offer a decent view – and all seats feature seat backs that are moderately comfortable.
The four video screens are fairly easy to read when on scoreboard mode, but the numbers could stand to be a little larger. The mascot, a large red wolf named Howl, does a good job of firing up the crowd in the first half and then interacting with audience members in the second.
Jonesboro is located inside of a dry county, but there are still several options to grab libations inside of bars “clubs” throughout the city, but I didn’t spot any bars within close range of the ASU campus. The most popular of these are located downtown on a three-block area on Main Street, such as Cregeen’s Irish Pub and Skinny J’s. Another regular destination is Fat City Grill on Caraway Road.
When it comes to lodging, there is a large cluster of hotels near the intersection of Red Wolf Boulevard and U.S. 63, including Fairview Inn & Suites, Hampton Inn, and Hilton Garden Inn.
Not many people wear the school colors, which adds to the movie theater feel. On a related note, the souvenir stand – for whatever reason – was not open on the most recent game I attended, even though it was Senior Night. The fans, who are all very friendly and cordial, will raise some noise when the Red Wolves are beginning to mount a run and will even let out a howl or two when asked to do so by the PA announcer.
The school band is a very spirited bunch that starts getting the fans into the game with an array of songs well before tipoff. Next to the band, the student section consists of an enthusiastic group who waves big signs and tries to do their best to distract the other team. Although the biggest distraction could be found behind the other hoop where a fan, who was dressed as a referee wearing sunglasses would interchangeably hold up posters of Kate Upton in a bikini and Justin Bieber to dissuade the opposing team from making its free throws.
Parking is a pretty easy process. All parking near the lot is for those who make considerable donations to the university’s Red Wolves Foundation, but parking is free across Olympic Drive by the baseball team’s J.A. Tomlinson Stadium-Kell Field.
There are four known bathroom stations in the entire building (one in each quadrant).
The men’s bathrooms are entirely too small to handle the needs of an entire section if the arena is actually full. I presume that the women’s bathroom is of comparable size. In addition, the lack of an outer concourse that orbits the building restricts access. The pathway between the upper and lower seats offer plenty of room to roam, but it still feels awkward walking in front of everyone just to move around the building. Note: Avoid any seats that are close to the beginning of the upper section to avoid passers-by.
Return on Investment 4
When it comes to Division I college basketball, an Arkansas State game is a great deal. With free parking next to the baseball stadium, free programs and tickets that range from $8-$25, a family can easily enjoy a night out at the game without coming close to breaking the bank.
One point is rewarded for the band getting the fans fired up with spirited renditions of hit songs beginning 40 minutes before the game.
One point is rewarded for the free programs and masks bearing the visage of head coach John Brady.
For those who live in the area or are thinking about following their favorite team to a game in Jonesboro, a trip to The Convo is recommended. For one, it’s a low-priced bargain. For another, the four screen, four quadrant set-up is very unique – whether you love it or hate it.