On April 16, 2019, the Florida Panthers organization announced they will be funding and restoring the historic War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by turning it into a new sports entertainment facility and potentially their new practice facility. Back in May of 2021, the organization finally broke ground on the project and plan to have it done by the summer of 2022. The facility is about half an hour away from the BB&T Center in Sunrise and the Florida Panthers Ice Den in Coral Springs. With this recent development, the question begs, are the Panthers moving?
When the team was inaugurated in 1993, the team spent their first five seasons at the old Miami Arena in downtown Miami, Florida. In 1998, they moved to the National Rental Car Center, which is now the BB&T Center. As a result, it’s clear that a change of scenery is not unusual for this team, so a potential move to the center of Broward County is not too farfetched. If it were to happen, it would be their second relocation in their 27-year history.
Closer to Bigger Area? Tolls Avoided?
The BB&T Center is a bit of a hike for certain fans as it’s in the middle of the Everglades. Additionally, the way to get to Sunrise requires you to take the Sawgrass Expressway via the Florida Turnpike, which can pile up tolls quickly. Avoiding the toll roads from certain areas can make the drive over an hour, even on a good day.
Additionally, everyone in the NHL is constantly making attendance jokes about the Panthers, as in the 2019-20 season they were near the bottom of the league with an average of 14k per game. This may be in part due to the location of the BB&T Center. As of 2020, the population of Fort Lauderdale is 183,109, making it the 10th most populated city in the state of Florida. While it may not be guaranteed to work as intended, moving to an area with a denser population is not a bad attempt to get more fans in the stands at home games.
More Pregame and Postgame Options?
Right next door from the rink is a shopping plaza containing the Sawgrass Mills Mall and a few restaurants. Apart from that, there really aren’t too many options for a pregame until you get to the stadium itself. Even around postgame, the mall is almost closed, and the only thing that’s open 24 hours is a McDonald’s down the street.
If the Panthers were to make the move near Fort Lauderdale Beach, that opens a massive door for the stadium to be in a prime date night location. Nearly an endless amount of bars, clubs, and shopping locations could draw more nearby fans to get the city in the mood for gameday. In addition, you have the beach itself in the general vicinity, which could turn a gameday into an all-day event. As if Fort Lauderdale wasn’t already a big hit with tourists, it may get even better.
The City Might be More Involved
For most NHL rinks, they’re typically in a downtown area that is full of businesses, restaurants, and bars. When the local team is playing that night, certain parts of the area will do something special for gameday. For example, when the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing at home, the top of a SunTrust building in downtown Tampa lights up to resemble the Lightning logo. In addition, some teams will hang up banners and advertisements all across downtown to make sure that home-field advantage is there.
On gameday, the Panthers could get heavily involved in downtown Lauderdale with banners, advertisements, gameday specials at local restaurants, or even lighting up one of their buildings in the skyline red. This move could help out Florida way more in the long run.
Are They Packing Their Bags?
Obviously, nothing is written in stone for this movement. However, it should be noted that Florida’s lease for the BB&T Center can be opted out of in 2023 if certain conditions are met. If they do not, they’re staying in Sunrise until 2028. With this in mind, the new practice facility may be seen as a backup option just in case things do not work out. On the other hand, it could be ownership planning for the future if they do not want to stay in Sunrise that much longer. However, if the Panthers are seriously contemplating packing their things and moving downtown, it might just work out for them in the long run.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!