CEI Arena

February 26, 2022
CEI Arena (Capacity: 4,654)
Catonsville, MD
UMBC Retrievers vs Maine Black Bears
Final Score: 93 – 73

.

My first college basketball game in the state of Maryland came here in Catonsville, a pleasant suburb of 40,000 people to the southwest of Baltimore. This is where the University of Maryland-Baltimore County is located, a public research university better known as UMBC. Those four letters are well known throughout the basketball world as the team became the first #16 seed to defeat a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That win came in 2018 as they soundly defeated Virginia, while their other tourney appearance in 30 years of D1 ball was in 2008. Home games are in the horribly long-winded Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena. It’s sometimes shortened to CEI Arena, which still is awkward with all syllables blending together. While the four-year old building seems nice, there are several fixable issues with the overall experience.
Prestige Ranking: 2.5 out of 5

Location

Campus takes up a decent amount of land in the southeast part of Catonsville and even though the area is suburban, most of the immediate surroundings beyond the campus is parkland. The central part of Catonsville is a couple miles away as the strip down Frederick Road features a collection of dining choices. UMBC also butts up to the town of Arbutus and there’s a few food options, including a great Hawaiian place that I did takeout for after the game. In terms of attractions, Baltimore is relatively close, but I recommend taking the time to visit historic Ellicott City. It’s about 15 minutes to the west and the small town has a charming Main Street. They’ve recovered after a couple devastating floods and while there are a few small museums, the real attraction is visiting the eclectic shops and restaurants in the many 150–200-year-old stone buildings that make up the historic district.
Location Ranking: 5.5 out of 10

Accessibility / Parking

The arena is on the edge of campus near all the other athletic fields. Highway access is great with I-95 and I-695 very close by. It’s just a few minutes to reach the access road, Hilltop Circle and the arena is right off of that. There is plenty of good surface parking in front and to the side of the arena, but there are no signs on which ones to use. Because I’m a worry-wart, I unjustifiably got concerned I was in a wrong lot that was for students only. Traffic in Maryland and the Baltimore area can be heavy at times, but arriving and departing UMBC on this Saturday afternoon was no problem.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7.5 out of 8

Exterior

CEI Arena blends in with the landscape and the campus as it is a beige color consisting of brick and metallic paneling. It is built over a hillside and although the entire structure kind of underwhelms upon approach, the most distinguishable feature is the overhanging upper level.
Exterior Ranking: 5.5 out of 10

Concourse

There is not much of an entranceway as past the double doors is the concourse, with some extra space before leading down to the arena seats (which are curtained off). On the sloped wall above is a huge “Welcome to Retriever Nation” sign that includes all the past school logos. I thought that was a nice introduction to the building. The rest of the concourse spans out to each side and going to the left, it feels like a finished basement as it was comprised of brick walls and what looked like smoothed stucco concrete. Light fixtures and exposed piping were seen above. The gray and other light coloring was ok, but the area was devoid of personality and you would have no idea you were in UMBC’s arena outside of that main entrance sign. The right side was better because of the large windows. There was not a lot of space in these side portions of the concourse. Another peculiar element was what was happening in the bathrooms. The faucets, you had to hold on to keep the water going. Arrrghhh!!! How are you supposed to wash your hands when one of them has to hold the faucet. It is mind-boggling that this stupid design is used in a building that opened in 2018. Also, there were no mirrors above the sink. Huh?
Concourse Ranking: 2.5 out of 5

Food

Food options were practically nothing as one could only get Hot Dogs, Nachos, Pretzels, Popcorn, Chips or Candy. Glad I ate lunch before the game. It’s hard to tell if this is a Covid thing because one reviewer in 2019 said that the offerings were “subpar”, while another person in 2018 said there was Pulled Pork and Sausage.
Food Ranking: 2 out of 8

Interior

CEI Arena has a classic horseshoe design as the north end is open space before reaching a wall. It is a pretty good set-up as there is a 200 level which provides a great vantage point. Unfortunately, they block off this area and weren’t selling tickets there for this game. This upper deck begins above the last few rows in the lower deck. Seats are black and walls are beige. The rows are tighter than I would expect for a new arena as my knees touched the seat in front of me. Corners are angled. Only a couple seats have a bit of railing in the way, otherwise there are no obstructions. Luxury seating is only found in the Retriever Room. This area at the top of the arena is essentially a space to mingle and they have some hors d’oeuevres (there’s no separate seating). It also has a span of windows that can be seen from the seating bowl, which creates annoying disproportionate lighting during day games.
Interior Ranking: 9.5 out of 14

Scoreboard

In the open end of the arena is the main scoreboard and it is a huge video screen. I really like it as it is in a great spot and the clarity is fantastic. During the game, the ESPN+ broadcast is displayed and the right side is used for player stats. There is also a ribbon board that goes around the lower façade of the upper seats and this enhances the technology.
Scoreboard Ranking: 4 out of 4

Displays

Outside of that large mural near the entryway, the only displays are interior banners. At least they are good banners as the yellow/black large ribbons have the team logo and decent information on the achievement. These include conference titles and NCAA appearances in multiple sports. The Virginia win gets its own banner, along with the score of the game. I get how you don’t want your program defined by one win, but it’s flabbergasting that this is the only recognition of that remarkable night in the entire arena.
Displays Ranking: 1.5 out of 6

Cost

Parking was free and concessions were reasonable as well ($5 for a hot dog and $4 for a water). Tickets are all $20 and while that number is becoming common among smaller schools as inflation soars, it is the highest base ticket price in the America East. It’s also higher than a geographic close comparison in Towson. Courtside seat options go for $30 – $40.
Cost Ranking: 6.5 out of 8

Fan Support

The crowd was small as I estimated a generous 1,000 in attendance. There also was a miniscule student turn-out and I’m not sure why given school size, arena location and what should’ve been more interest after their win four years ago. What little spark that they did receive the season after (at times getting a half-full building) is gone. Compared to the rest of America East, UMBC is in the middle for fan support.
Fan Support Ranking: 2.5 out of 8

Atmosphere

The crowd had a solid ebb/flow to it. They were notably irritated as shots continued to rim out. However, as the Patriots made their late game run, they got louder and several stood during the big buckets. It is more of a family atmosphere / “GMU is not my main team” sorta vibe, but they still brought an OK atmosphere. The architecture of the building has so much potential to be deafening and I’m sure in the glory days of the Colonial, it occasionally reached that level. One thing that does enhance the atmosphere is the Green Machine. More than a pep band, this collaboration features musicians, dancers and singers as they are led by the exuberant Doc Nix. The sound is certainly edgier than a regular band, but they entertain and add to what a Mason game is all about.
Atmosphere Ranking: 5 out of 14

Other Stuff

Let me preface what I’m about to say with the following: I fully understand the complexities of the Covid era in terms of the entertainment sector and figuring out what is the “right” thing to do. I am for vaccines and masking in various situations. But at this stage of the pandemic (late Feb 2022), making everyone in the crowd wear KN95 by handing them out at the front door AND having you change your current mask was a bit much. Especially after I just had to go through your metal detector and trying to get all my crap back in my pockets. I was probably extra cranky since my nose was already sensitive from being recently cauterized due to seasonal nosebleeds and it was easy to spread out in the seating bowl if I wanted to……Continuing to channel my inner Frank Costanza, I’ve always hated UMBC playing in the America East Conference. They are a geographical misfit as this is a collection of New England and New York schools with UMBC being a 4-10 hour outlier……The Retrievers nickname is derived from the State Dog of Maryland……CEI Arena cost $85 million to build.

Game

Maine is really bad and UMBC had no troubles as they only needed eight minutes to build a double-digit lead. At halftime, the Retrievers grew their lead to 52-28 and ended up winning by 14 as the Black Bears scored more in garbage time. L.J. Owens had 20 points and that was enough to bring him to the 1,000-point club.

Stadium Experience Ranking: 54.5 out of 100

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s