GILA RIVER ARENA
STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #30
- Location: Glendale, Arizona
- Opened: 2003
- Capacity 17,125
- Games attended: 3
- Last visited: 2022
Note: Until I make it to a game in the new 5,000-seat Mullett Arena in Tempe, I will leave this review up to ensure all 32 teams are represented.
There seems to be a running theme on many of the arenas near the bottom of the list: they are all suburban rinks with an attendance problem. Note to future arena builders: put the rink in the city.
Phoenix is among the most non-traditional of the non-traditional hockey markets. In the absence of a fantastic on-ice product, teams in these markets need to put on a show. And when people go to the show, they also like to go for dinner and perhaps a few drinks before calling it a night. That’s harder to do if you know you have a half-hour drive ahead of you.
The Gila River Arena itself was really very nice, just in the wrong place, which hurt attendance and therefore dulled the vibe. The sound system and scoreboards were top notch. The seats were comfy. Prices were reasonable vis a vis the rest of the league. And the fans’ Coyote howl was pretty cool; unfortunately, it echoed off thousands of empty seats on most nights.
The Westgate Entertainment Complex that surrounds the arena and football stadium has a few good (mainly chain) restaurants and bars where you can whet your whistle. On my second-last visit, I stayed at a nearby hotel to take full advantage of the area and had a blast; but it’s not as fun if you’re part of the 90% who’ll have a longish drive home and therefore have to maintain some modicum of sobriety.
The team knows they’re in the wrong part of town and have been talking about moving to the East Valley for years. That process was hastened by the city of Glendale who kicked the Yotes out of their arena, forcing them to play in a 5,000-seat college facility until they build their own rink. This feels like hockey’s version of the Chargers.
Ever since coming from Winnipeg, this team seems to be the one rumored to be going somewhere else, be it Kansas City, Houston or Quebec City. Maybe they should. But given how many stayed away from this nice place, I’m not sure a move 30 miles east will be the answer.