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Volume 20 No. 42
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The evolution of hockey arenas

The Evolution Of Hockey Arenas

Duquesne Gardens, the future home of the NHL Pittsburgh Pirates, opens as a trolley barn in downtown Pittsburgh. Six years later it is converted into a hockey rink, and the Pirates call it home for all five years of the franchise’s existence (1925-26 to 1929-30). In the NHL’s first century, no team would play in an older building. The rink is the first to install shatterproof glass above the dasher boards, rather than wire mesh. The glass is made by Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., the same company that now holds naming rights to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 6-year-old PPG Paints Arena. A wall inside the Captain Morgan-sponsored lounge at the venue contains a section of a wall from Duquesne Gardens.

Ottawa Auditorium opens as the new home for the defending Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators. “The Aud” is the first arena built specifically with an NHL team scheduled to be the anchor tenant. The team plays 11 seasons there before moving south and becoming the St. Louis Eagles.

The Montreal Forum opens as the home for the Montreal Maroons. The first-year club is formed to attract the city’s English-speaking hockey fans, and to provide a rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens’ fan base. The Canadiens become co-tenants two seasons later. The Maroons fold in 1938, but the Forum serves as home to the Canadiens for almost six more decades. With 9,300 seats and a total capacity of 12,500, it is easily the biggest building in the league at the time. Every arena built for an NHL team since has had a capacity bigger than the Forum.

The NHL decrees that all new arenas must have a playing surface that is 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. When the Buffalo Sabres move out of Buffalo Memorial Auditorium (whose rink had a length of only 196 feet) following the 1995-96 season, it was the last of the short-rink venues.

The Boston Bruins become the first team to use a Zamboni to resurface the ice. Frank Zamboni later reveals that Chicago Blackhawks owner Arthur Wirtz was concerned that fans would stay in the stands and watch the machine instead of going to the concession stands.

The Penguins’ Pittsburgh Civic Arena (later Mellon Arena) opens and is the only arena in the world to boast a retractable roof. Although the club goes on to play there for 43 seasons, the roof is only opened a few times, and never for a hockey game.

The Calgary Flames relocate from Atlanta and begin three seasons of play in the 30-year-old, 7,424-seat Stampede Corral. It’s the smallest home-rink capacity any team has had for more than a season since the Chicago Blackhawks moved out of 6,000-seat Chicago Coliseum at the conclusion of the 1928-29 season. The Flames moved into the new 16,605-seat Olympic Saddledome in 1983. (The building is now called the Scotiabank Saddledome and has a capacity of 19,289).

The Minnesota North Stars become the first club to display advertisements on arena dasher boards. The team sells eight pairs of rink boards for $3,000 per pair. Budweiser, McDonald’s and Canadian-based The Pop Shoppe are among the buyers.

Great Western Bank becomes the first company to have its name atop an NHL arena when it signs a 15-year, $20 million deal with the Los Angeles Kings. The United Center, home to the Chicago Blackhawks since the building opened in 1992, is the league’s oldest existing naming-rights deal. United Airlines signed a 20-year, $36 million deal shortly before the arena opened, and in 2013 extended its partnership for another 20 years.

The June groundbreaking for the San Jose Sharks’ new arena sets off a decade that would see $4.6 billion spent to build 20 new venues that would become home to an NHL club in the 1990s. For those in the arena design and construction business, it is the busiest and most lucrative decade in NHL history.

The Tampa Bay Lightning begin playing in the Thunderdome, capable of holding 28,153 hockey fans, the biggest capacity in the league’s first century. The club plays there through the 1995-96 season.

The Montreal Forum is declared a National Historic Site of Canada. The Great Western Forum (now called The Forum), which was home for the Los Angeles Kings from the time it opened in 1967 until they moved to the Staples Center in 1999, was listed on the U.S. National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Kemper Arena (scheduled to be renamed Mosaic Arena later this year), which was home to the Kansas City Scouts during their brief two-year stay in the city (1974–76), received the same designation last summer.

The 17,544-seat, $276 million Sprint Center opens in Kansas City, and is used by the city as an incentive, at various times, to try to lure the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The league uses digitally enhanced dasherboard advertisements during a live World Cup of Hockey telecast. The technology, provided by Europe-based Supponor, digitally replaces in-arena TV-visible dasherboard ads with different advertisements, allowing for specific-region and country-based messaging.

Rogers Place, the Edmonton Oilers’ new $465 million home, opens as the most expensive arena ever built for an NHL team that is not sharing the venue with an NBA club. The building also is the first LEED Silver-certified NHL facility in Canada, a government-designated award based on the building’s sustainability policies.

Little Caesars Arena is scheduled to open this fall as the new home of the Detroit Red Wings and NBA Detroit Pistons. It will become the 11th current arena to host both an NHL and NBA club. Three other current clubs — the Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks — previously shared their buildings with an NBA team but no longer do.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research