Suburban sprawl is far from disappearing but there has definitely been an increasingly heavy movement back to cities and downtown cores across the cities of North America. And with this populous migration back to city cores, the passions of those people have followed. One of these passions is sports. As the last two decades have passed, professional sports teams have showed a trend of moving from suburban venues to city centers and the teams of the NHL have been a huge part of this trend. This has strengthened the NHL’s image and its relativity to the culture of the markets it has teams in. The importance of having NHL arenas in downtown cores can be explained through a couple case studies. To understand how superior a result can come from putting an NHL arena in city cores we must first look at the last NHL arena to be built in a suburban community.
Gila River Arena: 2003
The last NHL Arena to be built outside of a city center and in a suburban community is the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. This arena has been nothing but a disaster for the community and surrounding area as a whole. The city of Glendale is too small and doesn’t have the tax base to pay for the arena and has been one of many reasons the Coyotes have never been financially stable. The other main reason is lack of attendance and thus event income but this also is an effect of the location the team plays in. By putting the Coyotes and their arena on the outskirts of suburban Phoenix the base of fans willing to go to a game is drastically reduced due to drive times. If an arena is placed in a city center all suburbanites are equidistant to the game and essentially meet “halfway” and don’t generally view the drive as to daunting as most are already used to the drive to events in the city. When it is placed out in a suburban area like Glendale on the East side of Phoenix’s suburbs, people on the West side are much less likely to go to a game due to having to drive double the distance they are accustomed to driving to go to an event. Therefore you cut your potential attending fan base down considerably. You also cut down your potential fan base because of the lack of attachment to the city of Glendale. People from other Phoenix suburban communities are much more likely to rally behind a regional identity like Phoenix than a local identity like Glendale they have no connection to. These are not the only reasons the Coyotes have had a hard time financially but I would bet my life they would be at least a little better off financially and culturally if they played in downtown Phoenix.
Prudential Center: 2007
The New Jersey Devils new home is quite the opposite approach to that taken in Glendale Arizona. Prudential Center was built in downtown Newark, New Jersey rather than the suburbs like the Devils original home at Continental Airlines Arena. This has subsequently lead to much higher attendance rates for the Devils and also has greatly helped the revitalization of downtown Newark.
Future NHL Arenas: Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders
The next batch of NHL arenas will be following with the trend of being centrally located in the downtowns of their respective cities. The cities of Edmonton and Detroit and the borough of Brooklyn will all benefit greatly from their new arenas. Although Detroit’s current Joe Louis Arena is already downtown, it sits in an awkward location that is relatively inaccessible by foot. The new location will be more approachable and help increase pedestrian traffic to local business. This same effect can be expected from the new arenas in New York and Edmonton as well. Detroit’s situation is very unique compared to most cities but it also shows how much a sports team can really do for a major city. Detroit’s new arena district is becoming a stunning example of how a sports team can be the anchor for a major revitalization project for any city’s decaying areas and is the epitome of what a sports team can and should do for its city.
Cover Photo – Rogers Place, New Home of the Edmonton Oilers. Photo by: rogersplace.com