Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Importance Of Signage For The O'Rena

Last summer I had the opportunity to check out many college basketball arenas while on an extended road trip of the Midwest and East Coast. Even though there were no games being played at the time, I made a point of checking out the various arenas, whether it was for the storied traditions of The Palestra in Philadelphia or simply the mammoth size of Syracuse's Carrier Dome. As a fan and graduate of a mid-major school, it was also interesting to think about the differences between these places and the arena where I have most frequented games: the O'Rena at Oakland. Aside from the typical things we think about in comparing and contrasting mid-major to high-major arenas (as in...size), what struck me most about the larger places was the signage. Almost every school had large signs or billboards indicating the arena as "the home of the ____." Sadly, Oakland University has no such indicators.

Signage has to be done tastefully and in a manner that is appropriate for the particular school. For example, a gaudy electronic sign like those one sees on I-75 for The Palace of Auburn Hills would not work for the O'Rena. In my limited travels, the best university arena signage I have encountered was at the University of Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Center. The arena itself is rather imposing, sitting at the top of one of the city's steep hills, with what seems like thousands of stairs to climb to reach the entrance from street level (and vaguely similar to those at Joe Louis Arena). The inside concourse is set inside a glass atrium, and it is nothing short of visually stunning and entirely modern. With all the glass and stairs making up the facade of the Petersen Events Center, the university opted to put its signage on bricks nearer to the street level. The lettering is classy and fitting of a university structure which still acknowledging the fact that some high-level hoops action goes on inside. In a sense, it's perfect.

Since I saw the front entrance to the Petersen Events Center, I have been unable to get that lettering off my mind, especially when I go to an Oakland home game. It is always a pleasure to see a flood of people entering the on-campus arena, but it never truly feels like we're entering a place where basketball is about to be played. For that reason and more, I believe that the O'Rena could benefit from some subtle signage in the same vein as the one showcased at Pitt. Presently, the front of the O'Rena is hard to distinguish from any other academic building, mainly because its facade is fairly unassuming. Additionally, folks who pass by may confuse it for the Recreation Center because of how it connects to the O'Rena and due to fact that the Rec Center's entrance is much more alluring.

There is already room available for the fresh signange on the existing structure. As I attempted to picture below, there is a rather large area of brick located above the stairs to the doors of the O'Rena. I have seen banners in this spot before, though they always look a bit tacky. Instead, some resources could be allocated toward the purchase of classy lettering like that at Petersen. Just imagine the phrase "Athletics Center O'Rena...Home of the Golden Grizzlies" attached to those bricks (or some other variation). Not only would it serve the practical purpose of identifying the building, but it would further aid in providing spectators and students with a stronger sense of pride in the program.

Certainly in today's tough economic climate, it may be difficult to justify spending money on what essentially comes down to an aesthetic addition (plus, there is already a smaller sign near the road, as is the case with every other building at OU). I understand that and realize it is a long shot. However, if there is an alumnus out there looking for a pet donation project to take on at Oakland, I would strongly urge looking into what can be done about increasing the O'Rena's curb appeal. A few letters on the outside bricks would surely accomplish the goal of making Oakland University basketball's facility more like a basketball home.

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