After fending off rumors of relocation for quite some time now, the Carolina Hurricanes have made a very clear statement on their commitment to playing in Raleigh. On July 8, the organization signed an extension of their lease on PNC Arena. As reported by The News & Observer’s Chip Alexander, the deal extends through the 2028-29 season and adds five years to the current deal, which expires in 2024. (from ‘No plans to move for the Hurricanes. PNC Arena finalizes lease extension,’ News & Observer, 07/08/2021) General manager Don Waddell said he is proud to call the Raleigh area home for this franchise and believes it is a perfect location for the Hurricanes to play.
Origins and Evolution of the Loudest House
In the 1980s, the head coach of the North Carolina State basketball team, Jim Valvano, proposed a new arena to replace the on-campus Reynolds Coliseum. This proposal was eventually approved and then developed by The Centennial Authority. The Centennial Authority revised the original idea and decided on a multi-use arena, which helped the effort to bring the Hartford Whalers down from Hartford, CT. Though the late Valvano would never see its completion, what was then known as the Entertainment and Sports Arena (later the RBC Center and now PNC Arena) became the permanent home of the NHL in Raleigh.
Though NC State basketball also plays their games within, arena improvements and renovations are overseen by the Hurricanes. In fact, almost the entirety of PNC Arena’s operations are handled by the team. The first of two bright red video boards encircling the arena, now a staple of game presentation, was installed before the 2003-04 season. Two seasons later, it would be lit bright red more than ever before, with the Hurricanes clinching the Stanley Cup in Game 7. Within the walls of PNC Arena that night, a new record for the loudest sporting event in American history was struck: 134 decibels.
Though the arena fell to an unsettling quiet during the Hurricanes’ long playoff drought, the 2019 and 2021 Playoffs have seen PNC Arena return to being the Loudest House in the NHL, a title well-earned. Raleigh is a small market for professional sports, especially for ice hockey, but the passion and pride of Hurricanes fans is once again commanding national spotlight during their resurgence as competitors for the Cup.
Raleigh Has and Will Continue to Sustain an NHL Franchise
A unique opportunity presents itself when an NHL arena is placed in a massively expansive parking lot. Almost conjoined with Cartey-Finley Stadium across the street, PNC Arena is prime for tailgating. While plenty of NHL fans tailgate their team’s games, too, the scale of tailgating for hockey in Raleigh gives a unique atmosphere to the hours preceding puck drop you can’t find anywhere else in the NHL.
Also assisting in bringing hockey to the non-traditional market, the Research Triangle region of North Carolina has attracted an incredible amount of immigrants from northern states and Canada in recent years. Plenty of southern states have seen a large number of transplants in recent decades, but the incredible growth of North Carolina as a state is nearly unparalleled. It’s no surprise that the Raleigh suburb of Cary has taken on the name, “Carolina Area for Relocated Yankees.” Longtime residents may turn up their nose at unsweet tea, but for the ‘Canes, northern immigrants are a key to buttressing a fan base in their non-traditional hockey market.
Can the City Can Secure the Team Even Longer?
Only one vote was cast against the lease extension. Fearing a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” the member said the deal opens the door for a potential buyer to claim the team from Tom Dundon, current owner of the Hurricanes. With the rising value of NHL franchises, an expiring lease at a 30-year-old arena could very well be a golden opportunity for a buyer in 2029 (or even before).
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In a similar conundrum, demands for a new downtown arena could arise in the near future. The southern end of downtown Raleigh has a 10-year-plan including what they call a, “cultural/entertainment/sporting event center.” It’s unlikely another facility would be built for NHL hockey here, however. Given the ambiguity of the proposed building as of now, there’s no reason to fear an imminent cry for the Hurricanes to take advantage of the land. A sports facility is looking likely, though, resulting even in an interesting effort to bring Major League Baseball to Raleigh.
Any downsides to Carolina’s extension with PNC Arena are far outweighed by the positive impact. An almost guaranteed presence of the NHL in Raleigh through 2029 will help sustain the great culture being built. Since 1999, when the team moved over from their temporary home in Greensboro, NC, the Hurricanes have been a staple in Raleigh. College basketball will likely always be the most important sport in the Triangle, but the NHL has taken hold of the region over the course of almost two and a half decades. This new agreement proves one thing above all else: NHL hockey belongs in the Carolinas. Truly, from the moment they donned their red sweaters in 1997, the Hurricanes were home.
Although I live in Norman, Oklahoma now, I brought with me a love for both ice hockey and the Carolina Hurricanes from my hometown of Raleigh, NC. Along the way, I’ve joined with the OCCC Pioneer newspaper, the OU Hockey broadcasting team and now The Hockey Writers to expand my experience while I complete my degree in Broadcast Journalism.
I’m an alumni of the 2016 Carolina Gold Drum and Bugle Corps and the 2018 Pride of Oklahoma.