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Olympic Basketball Stadium--wukesong


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Went to the afternoon inaugural event--Women's Invitational Basketball Competition, here's some thoughts on the venue...

Exterior: Not the most attractive or inspiring building, but of all the Olympic new venues, this one was probably the most problematic--having to be designed and redesigned at the 11th hour after severe budget cuts and scuttling the façade-as-monitor-screen concept. I'm sure this is not what the architects hoped for. Moreover, it’s set back in a huge, bare concrete plaza—unfortunately, the Chinese just can’t seem to lay off the concrete and plant lots of greenery instead. I hope that during the Olympics they put some kind of big viewing screen and lots of cultural attraction tents outside to soak up the empty space...otherwise this plaza extends a grim welcome to visitors.

Interior: Things get better once inside. The public concourse areas are generously sized and there are multiple stairs and escalators and the color scheme is pleasantly unobtrusive. It’s a very unfussy, clean, and streamlined facility, possibly because they ended up with very little budget to play with--sometimes in China, this can be a good thing. Note: it appears that the escalators will be set in the UP mode and one will have to take the stairs down (possibly at game end they will reverse the escalator direction). Anyone sitting in the upper tier/Category C seats will need to use these. The main entry level leads directly through multiple openings into the “lower bowl”—one walks down to get to those seats—even quite far down to the temporary seats closest to the court. Good signage and very logical layout to find your seat. Wheelchair seating is available in little balcony areas directly off the main arena aisle, so that should be OK, except companion seating isn’t immediately adjacent.

Arena/Seating: It’s got a nice feel and scale to it and doesn’t seem like it seats as many as 18,000. The photos on the official website make it appear much larger than it really is. Seating is auditorium/movie style with maroon upholstery. Seats are comfortable but legroom is not great, particularly in the lower tier. This lowest tier of seating nearest the court is temporary—11 rows all around the court perimeter, totaling about 4000 seats, all will be Category A. These temp seats come really close to the court, the front rows are practically in the laps of the players. The next tier up (permanent seating) has about 5600 seats, Cat A across both sides of midcourt and Cat B at ends and corners. All of these are pretty good seats, although the corners wouldn’t be my preference. The top tier 3 is really up in the gods—the seats are very steeply raked to get sightlines and you’ll have to enjoy bird’s eye views of the court, but some people prefer this. Most of the top tier—about 8400 seats—is supposed to be Category C with some Cat B’s in the midcourt area. The least desirable seats will be up top in the corners, not obstructed but just really remote—hope you don’t get assigned those. There are skyboxes under tier 3, each with a private solid door, that seat from 8 to 26 people each, and have little sofa areas and bars. Total skybox seating is about 700 but at the Games these will probably be assigned only to VIP and corporate sponsors.

I did not like the size of the center-hanging “funnel” LED multi-sided TV screens. It seemed unnecessarily large and hanging too low—just the wrong scale for the arena, IMHO. If you are sitting in the lower Category A rows, it probably wouldn’t be bothersome, but from the middle and upper seating areas, I found it quite obtrusive and a distraction from the action on the court area itself. (Dammit, if I wanted to watch the game on TV, I'd have stayed at home!) The P.A. system was decent and the acoustics are pretty good. Services: Not enough concession areas, wait times were long. Toilets are reasonably plentiful and almost completely western-style.

I'd give this venue a grade of B to B+, docking it some points mostly on seating legroom issues and the Evil Funnel. There were only about 4000 people at the session I attended, which didn't really test the limits of the facility. I'm going to try again at another session in a few days, when the Chinese team is playing and the crowd should be closer to full. Overall, a positive experience and a lot of fun watching the basketball action in this venue (even if the Aussies did beat a sleeping USA team).

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