Official Blog - ticket news, tour previews & company announcements

Comparing Dean Smith Center and Cameron Indoor: Duke vs. North Carolina

Published Feb 3, 2020 / by Michael Malaychuk

Not many states have a more decorated basketball history than North Carolina. Some notable memories include Davidson’s Elite Eight run with Stephen Curry in 2008 and Jim Valvano’s NC State team winning the NCAA Championship on a buzzer beater in 1983. And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

Although there are plenty of D-I programs to choose from in this basketball-loving state, North Carolina is arguably home to the two most dominant schools in the history of college basketball.

Of course, we’re referring to the Tobacco Road rivalry between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Did you know that these two universities are separated by just ten miles? The drive between Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Dean Smith Center is under twenty minutes!

distance between duke and unc
Dean Smith Center and Cameron Indoor are less than 11 miles apart and about a 20 minute drive

Everyone even slightly familiar with college basketball is probably aware of this rivalry. With both schools churning out NBA-ready players constantly, these two teams are always in the spotlight.

Basketball fans in the Raleigh/Durham area have it better than nearly anyone in the country. So what are the fan experiences like at Cameron Indoor vs. Dean Smith? We took a trip to North Carolina to find out.

Visiting Dean E. Smith Center, Home of the North Carolina Tar Heels

Our first stop was the Dean E. Smith Center to catch a Tar Heels game. Walking around campus towards the stadium, the Smith Center is quite far from most academic buildings. Located on the south border of campus, the “Dean Dome” was built in 1982 after several years of pursuing construction of a new stadium.

overview of dean smith center
The Dean E. Smith Center, home of the North Carolina Tar Heels with a capacity of over 21,000

Walking into the Dean Smith Center, one of the first things that becomes apparent is the narrow concourse. With the 100 and 200 levels sharing the same concourse, walking around the stadium during big games can be difficult.

The food options are above average, as Jersey Mike’s Subs and Chick-Fil-A sandwiches can be found at most vendors around the stadium. The concourse is nicely decorated too, as it’s covered with UNC banners and their iconic Carolina Blue and White colors.

Walking into the seating area to get a view of Roy Williams Court, the interior of the Dean Dome has an extremely open feel. With seemingly hundreds of banners honoring North Carolina’s championships and best players, it quickly becomes apparent how much prestige the North Carolina basketball program has to its name.

north carolina banners
North Carolina Conference and Final Four banners hang high above in the rafters at Dean Smith Center

This open feeling is unique. Rather than a centralized hanging scoreboard that most stadiums of this size would have, the athletic department chose in 2018 to build four separate scoreboards with one in each corner. This was to preserve that open feel and avoid blocking fans’ views of the action and the banners above.

In addition to the banners, there’s also a grid hanging over the court that allows for sound and lighting equipment. Although this looks a bit tacky, it doesn’t get in the way of the action.

The atmosphere at Dean Smith Center has been criticized as underwhelming. The Dean Dome was completely privately financed, and many original donors were rewarded with the right to purchase tickets for two whole generations.

This means the lower levels and best seats in the stadium are full of alumni, while most students are forced to sit on the upper level. Even when the student sections are loud, it pales in comparison to the noise levels at Carmichael Arena, where the women’s team still plays.

best seats at unc
Some of the best seats are located at mid-court in the 100 level at Dean Smith Center

The building has been the home to some amazing talent over the past four decades. There’s no denying that a lot of aspects of the Smith Center look outdated, and it was built strictly to fit as many seats as possible. Although the UNC basketball program is lively, the Dean Smith Center can be a bit dull. Regardless, it’s still worth your time to visit this basketball mecca.

Visiting Cameron Indoor Arena, Home of the Duke Blue Devils

What if North Carolina never upgraded to the Dean Smith Center, and instead kept their original arena? That’s exactly what Duke did with Cameron Indoor Arena, one of the oldest stadiums in college basketball.

Its first game was played in 1940, making it one of the oldest venues in the sport. With a seating capacity of 9,314, it holds less than half the amount of the Dean Smith Center.

cameron indoor arena
View from the corner of Cameron Indoor showing the smaller nature of the venue

Cameron Indoor Arena is located right in the heart of Duke’s campus. It’s next to Wallace Wade Stadium and Krzyzewskiville, where students are known to set up tents in order to score tickets to the biggest games. The stadium is also a short walking distance away from classrooms and other academic buildings.

After walking around campus and visiting the gift shop located outside the stadium, we made our way into Cameron Indoor. Instantly, you’ll be surrounded by Duke memorabilia and history. Stay on the ground level to access student seating and a few other sections.

duke basketball history
The entrance to Cameron Indoor Arena is filled with Duke Basketball history and memorabillia

The lower level seats are bleacher-style and are not designed for comfort. Instead, they’re designed to fit the maximum amount of fans for one of the best programs in the country. The environment on the ground floor of a men’s basketball game is truly electric.

Upstairs is full of reserved seating, where Duke fits as many seats as possible into an area that isn’t much bigger than a high school gymnasium. Some corner seats in the last few rows might be under a low ceiling or next to some stored athletics equipment. The uniqueness and history of Cameron Indoor continues to draw fans from all over the world.

Cameron Indoor upper level
The upper level at Cameron Indoor Arena is the size of some high school gymnasiums

Overall, when comparing the two stadiums it is clear that Cameron Indoor Arena provides a much more unique experience due to it's small capacity. However, the downsides of that of course are less people can go to a game leading to more expensive tickets. This is why it is a bucket list venue for many fans.

Give us your thoughts by tweeting at us!