February 1, 2022
MVP Arena (Capacity: 15,229)
Siena Saints vs Canisius Golden Griffins
Final Score: 73 – 65
Albany is the state capital of New York and this city of nearly 100,000 sits in the eastern part of the state, along the Hudson River. Most known as the center of state government, the city has a skyline dominated by the Empire State Plaza, which is an organized grouping of brutalist and bland buildings. It’s a unique section and it starkly differs from the rest of Albany’s intriguing architecture. In the heart of the city is MVP Arena, a building that opened in 1990 and is surprisingly large for a mid-sized city. There have been plenty of events and many different tenants in this arena, but the longest standing one is Siena College. This private, liberal arts catholic school has just 3,000 students and is located in the suburb of Loudonville, about 20 minutes to the north. In 1997, the basketball team permanently moved home games to the downtown arena. While the Saints are relatively young in their time as a Division I member, they are in rarified air these days as a longtime member of a conference (the MAAC since 1990). They’ve won the conference tournament six times and have had a couple great teams, including the squad that won NCAA Tournament games in 2008 and 2009. It’s an odd match this small school playing in a large downtown building, but it is a relationship that has worked out well.
Prestige Ranking: 2.5 out of 5
MVP Arena is right in the middle of downtown and the aforementioned Empire State Plaza is close-by, about a half mile to the west. The Plaza sits on a marble platform and features a reflecting pool. Though most of this area is governmental, there is a State Museum worth checking out. In addition, the Corning Tower provides an awesome observation deck and the Capitol building is a marvel to walk around in. Closer to the arena, there are some small places to eat along Pearl Street. The area doesn’t wow, but it’s enough if you want to go out before or after the game. A larger option attached to the arena that just opened a week before my visit is the Stadium Restaurant & Bar.
Location Ranking: 6.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Getting to Albany by car will likely involve either I-87 or I-90, which takes care of arriving from all directions. I-787 connects the city between the two interstates and dealing with connections to 787 can be confusing, along with traversing the streets near the arena. Once there, a parking garage is attached to the back of the arena and a couple other garages/surface lots are right nearby, making that aspect fairly simple (except that it wasn’t clear how to pay as it wasn’t a flat entrance rate for my garage). Traffic was not an issue.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7 out of 8
The arena has a rectangular octagon look from the air and it is made with an off-white and light blue metallic-looking material. From ground-level, fans just mostly see the front of the building since it is so close to the street. Most of the front features typical city-like store fronts, while in the middle is the main entrance. A large arena sign is above the doors.
Exterior Ranking: 5.5 out of 10
If you need the box office, it is in a horrible spot tucked away on the side of the building and you will probably traverse walkways that have old snow or ice on them. There are signs pointing you in that direction, but still. From there, the opening atrium has a mall feel to it and while it’s nice, it just was a giant advertisement for MVP Health Care. I did like the waterfall feature glowing red. You have to go up a set of escalators and stairs to get to the concourse, which is a traditional, closed-off area that circles the arena. It has light-colored walls and a high ceiling from the rows of the seating way above. Having just one concourse for two decks of seating would lead to traffic issues, however that’s not too bad for Siena games with the top bowl closed off. Bathroom access though is terrible as you have to go down a healthy set of stairs in the corners of the concourse to reach the bathroom area (exception is the handicap facilities). A few bars and lounges have been added to the limited more open areas that they were able to fill in.
Concourse Ranking: 2.5 out of 5
Food options were pretty standard for a downtown arena. The exception was a plethora of sweet bites. They like little balls (heh) as there was Fried Dough, Cookie Dough, Cinnamon and Reese’s. Putting that at the same stand as Garlic Fries made for an interesting scent. Folks had a lot to choose from when it came to alcohol as there was a cocktail stand and several local beers (including Druther Brewing Company and Albany Distilling).
Food Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
Albany’s arena features a basic and boring design that includes two levels of equal seating in an oval shape. Luxury suites can be found behind the 100 level and underneath the 200s throughout most of the building. A black curtain is used to section off those upper-level seats, however, the curtain doesn’t completely hide the first row. They don’t block off access, so I snuck up here and enjoyed a much nicer vantage point, especially from a little group of seats that is tucked between the railings up on the edge. Some seats up here are purple, while the rest of the building is blue. The first level is not great because the row width is so narrow. My knees jammed up to the seat in front of me and there were no cupholders and a skinny armrest (at least the chair had nice cushion). Distance from the court is also poor as this is just a bad college basketball set-up. Four rows on temporary rafters go below the 100-level and then finally you reach the floor, where another couple rows of courtside seats are located, then it’s the playing floor. End sections are very far as well and temporary bleachers are used for the student section. The other side has a VIP area. It’s a conundrum as the size of the facility is impressive for a city of this size and same for the school as there are advantages of playing here. Being just a tenant in a big building not built well for basketball is the downfall.
Interior Ranking: 5.5 out of 14
The scoreboard above center court is on the small side and it features four video screens with large advertisement corner panels. Video is ok as it shows live game footage that isn’t problematic to view, it’s just not as super high quality as what you normally see these days. Above each screen is a panel for game information that includes player states (points/fouls). Presentation is a little messy in this area.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3 out of 4
Hidden away in a corner of the box office is a glass enclosed showcase to Ben Becker. Lights were off, which is a shame because I wanted to learn more about this boxing icon. Inside the arena, there’s a couple of amateur displays on the walls of a corner in the concourse. A Capital Region Football Hall of Fame and a Basketball one feature some haphazardly placed pictures and plaques. Interior banners are much nicer visually as Siena has several hanging from the rafters. These include postseason tournaments and conference championships with a large logo on each one. At the center are the retired numbers of four honored Saints. Last, but not least, there is a POW-MIA unoccupied seat.
Displays Ranking: 2.5 out of 6
Though I’m not sure how much the attached arena parking is, the nearby surrounding lots were $5. That’s fine for a downtown arena, but a charge that most MAAC teams don’t have to deal with. For tickets, they cost $13 to $35. All the non-corner or end seats are a relatively expensive $23 or $30. This certainly is high, but it is worth noting that a couple other like schools (Monmouth and Iona) have seats going that high. At least at Siena you can gamble with a lower cost ticket and move around given the large arena. Speaking of that, concession prices were outrageous! I know it’s a downtown venue, but jeez….$8 for Cookie Dough Balls. $7 for Cotton Candy. $9 for French Fries sprinkled with garlic. Then you get to beer, which only was sold in 19-24oz sizes, as the cost was $12-$14.
Cost Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
Siena is by far the most popular team in the conference. They’ve always drawn well and are generally popular in the city. Here on a Tuesday Night game, a mediocre Saints squad had a couple thousand in attendance. Frequently, you’ll see some crowds reaching 3,000 to 4,000 during the heart of conference play (ignore the announced numbers). Back in the Fran McCaffery days, the house would get packed. This is an older crowd and student presence is there, but on the smaller end. That’s not surprising given the tiny student body and distance from campus.
Fan Support Ranking: 6 out of 8
They mic up the area near the large group of cheerleaders / dancers and the pep band, who help lead chants each possession. This gives the game a decent college soundtrack. Speaking of the band, hearing “When the Saints go Marching in” is catchy and they have a nice little rendition during pre-game introductions. The rest of the crowd reacts well to the game, it just never will get too raucous, especially given the size of the arena.
Atmosphere Ranking: 7.5 out of 14
MVP Arena was home to an AHL team from 1993-2017. I attended a River Rats game about 20 years ago and the city just never really supported hockey all that well. There doesn’t seem to be any plans for the sport’s return five years after they lost the team. Arena Football and Indoor Lacrosse have also had stints in the city…..The downtown arena is a tournament home and it is a frequent host of the MAAC Basketball Championship. I always thought that was unfair since it’s Siena’s home court and I like the relatively new arrangement of having it in Atlantic City. College Hockey Regionals also are often held in Albany……Siena’s chief rival is the University of Albany and it is a big game in the city that draws a lot of interest. After a pause in the annual affair because of disputes in where to play, the series is back on next season. Siena also has recently started a yearly game against Saint Bonaventure, a fellow Franciscan school…..Most league games are Fridays and Sundays, making for a convenient time to bring the family.
Canisius jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but that was short-lived as an 11-2 run by the Saints effectively set the stage the rest of the way as they were generally in control throughout. It was an entertaining game with multiple dunks and efficient offense ran as the teams combined to shoot 47% from the field. Siena’s Anthony Gaines had 24 points and 13 rebounds in the win.