Welsh Ryan Arena

Welsh-Ryan Arena is a multi-purpose arena that serves as home to four Northwestern Wildcats athletic teams: men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, and wrestling. 

The venue is located inside of McGaw Memorial Hall north of Ryan Field and was originally built in 1952 to replace the Patten Gymnasium. McGaw Memorial Hall was built through the generosity of Northwestern University trustee and donor Foster G. McGaw. The building, named in honor of McGaw’s father Francis A. McGaw and was always intended to house sporting events and large-scale meetings. The original seating capacity of the hall was 13,000 and, at the time of building, was one of the three largest auditoriums in the Chicago area. One of the most popular features of the facility was its lighting system, that used 180 mercury vapor lights that were placed in such a way as to simulate pure daylight. The venue’s size and lighting made it popular early on, which resulted in it and the arena hosting 1956 Final Four for the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. 

But over time, the arena needed renovations as the aging facility was no longer up to the task of offering what modern spectators needed. This resulted in the 1983 renovation where the venue was renamed the Welsh-Ryan Arena. The renovation updated the venue, improved the lighting and made it appropriate for other sports. These renovations lasted until the conclusion of the 2016-17 basketball season that saw another major renovation and upgrade that was completed in late 2018. 

Despite being historically one of Chicago’s larger arenas, it was known as one of the smallest arenas in the Big Ten Conference and the only arena that didn’t seat at least 10,000. It wasn’t until Rutgers University joined the conference that the title of the smallest arena in conference changed hands. But then, during the last round of renovations in 2018, Welsh Ryan became the smallest arena when seating capacity fell to just over 7,000 spectators. Despite this smaller size, many fans cheered on the changes that featured wider concourses, balconies behind the baskets, and suites.

Today, Welsh Ryan Arena is a small and intimate venue that still manages to field some of the most passionate crowds and audiences in collegiate sports today.

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