This past week, I watched the New York Islanders take on the Vegas Golden Knights, Arizona Coyotes, and Colorado Avalanche. Each city is completely different from the other and that personality is reflected in their hockey arenas. The Islanders are slated to open Belmont Arena before the 2021-22 season, and they too will look to add the Long Island identity into their home. What can Isles ownership take away from the west and make Belmont one of the nicest places to watch a hockey game?
Vegas: T-Mobile Arena
There is no city like Las Vegas. It is an adult playground and is one of the most entertaining places in the world. People from all over flock to Vegas to indulge in its casinos, shows, and restaurants; the Golden Knights capitalize on this by making T-Mobile Arena feel like you’re a part of the culture. It’s situated right on the Strip in between Park MGM and New York, New York, putting it in the perfect location for tourists and residents alike.
When you walk towards T-Mobile Arena, fans are ready to watch their Golden Knights play two hours before puck-drop. The Strip is packed with fans, and it seems like a giant party. People are dancing to a DJ, playing cornhole, shooting pucks, or just hanging out at one of the numerous bars. Fans want to get to the arena early to get involved. It feels like a festival and the Golden Knights capitalized on this by making their outside environment almost as fun as it is inside.
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At a typical NHL game, fans are excited before the first period, but it takes a goal or heavy hit to get them cheering during the next two periods. The Golden Knights game-day crew purposely designed their presentation so that fans are always cheering. Before the third period, the entire arena was up on their feet jumping around to Van Halen. I’ve never seen a game experience like this, where everyone was continuously energetic even when the game was at a slower point.
The only negatives associated with T-Mobile Arena was that the arena’s bowl and exterior showed the Las Vegas spirit, but the concourses were relatively plain. Even though the Barclays Center is the worst building ever constructed for hockey, its concourses are very stereotypical Brooklyn. I would have liked a “night time vibe”, but it seemed like this could have been a concourse in any city. At Belmont Arena, the Islanders’ owners should go above-and-beyond by making the place feel authentically Long Island. They should bring out some lobsters and history about the great teams from the 1980s. T-Mobile Arena was only built in 2016, yet it was lacking in its concourses.
Overall, I’ve never been to a hockey game similar to that in Las Vegas. It felt like a giant party and you were a part of the action. They even brought out showgirls and a battle of knights before the game. If the Islanders make Belmont Arena half as fun as Vegas, it’ll be one of the best atmospheres in hockey.
Arizona – Gila River Arena
Before I flew to Phoenix, I was very curious to see what kind of hockey atmosphere would exist in Arizona. There are always moving rumors surrounding the Coyotes and how the organization does not have any fans. The key issues associated with Gila River Arena is its location. Glendale is 30 minutes away from downtown Phoenix and about an hour from Scottsdale or Tempe. Most people that live near or around Phoenix are east of the city, while Glendale is northwest.
Islanders fans know all too well that the location of an arena can completely change the direction of the franchise. No one wants to take the exodus into Brooklyn, and Coyote fans do not want to travel upwards of 40 minutes (without traffic), to watch their team. Even Brock Nelson agreed with me when I said there was nothing in the area. The Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks play in downtown Phoenix, and they don’t have the same attendance issues. If the Coyotes moved to a more central location, maybe they would not be fourth-worst in stadium attendance.
Similar to the soon-to-be Belmont Arena, Gila River Arena has an entertainment district surrounding the building. I was pleasantly surprised at the job they did at the Westgate Entertainment District. There was a Dave & Buster’s, many other restaurants, and a movie theater. Unfortunately, the location of all of this was so downright awful, not many people showed up.
Part of the Belmont Arena plan is to include a “luxury entertainment village” courtesy of Scott Malkin’s Value Retail. Value Retail typically builds districts full of stores like Ferragamo and Versace. My fear with the village is that it will have absolutely nothing to do with hockey or the Islanders and that it won’t entice fans to show up before a game. In Arizona, some fans arrived before puck drop to either hang around the arena or get food. No one would show up early at Belmont if the only thing to do is go shopping at Gucci.
Colorado – Pepsi Center
The Pepsi Center opened 20 years ago, but it still has the amenities of some of the newer arenas. I’ve never seen a bigger jumbotron than in Denver and I appreciated how the concourses felt distinctly Colorado. The food stands had outlines of the mountains and you could order anything from Elk to a fruit kebab. The bathroom lines were reminiscent of the Nassau Coliseum, yet that was my only negative with the Pepsi Center. It definitely wasn’t the sexiest arena in the NHL; nevertheless, it was one of my favorite places to watch a hockey game.
With Belmont Arena scheduled to cost more than $1 billion, Islanders fans should expect one of the nicest arenas in the world. After going out west, I’ve come up with a greater understanding of what must or must not be in the arena. If you can party before a game, feel like you’re a part of the Long Island (not New York) culture, get good food, and have a low roof, the new home will be a smashing success. Hopefully, Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin toured the NHL looking at different arenas before designing Belmont.
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