LITTLE CAESARS ARENA
STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #6
- Location: Detroit, Michigan
- Opened 2017
- Capacity 19,515
- Games attended: 2
- Last visited: 2021
I was blown away the first time I saw Little Caesars Arena. But I’ve seen other fans rip this place a little. I wonder if I just caught it on a good night. I went back in 2021 and confirmed my initial assessment. If anything, it was even better than I remembered it.
While some taxpayer money was used, Mike Illitch, founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza and owner of the Red Wings and Tigers, was the chief funding source for this sparkling midtown Detroit arena and the emerging 50-block entertainment district surrounding the rink. Illitch was a fantastic sports owner who was truly willing to spend the money needed to build champions out of his Wings and Tigers teams; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after his passing both his teams fell on real tough times as his kids now look to rebuild and win profitably rather spend their inheritance as liberally as their father did. While the entire arena and District Detroit project is indubitably a capitalistic endeavor, to me it somehow feels somewhat philanthropic given how much Illitch has spent over the years to help (successfully) revitalize Detroit’s downtown core.
The building features breathtaking concourses and a cool seating bowl ceiling which glows in different colors. Detroit Red Wing history is felt in the rafters with banners, in the concourses with statues, and in little design touches throughout the building. While the Pistons moved in after the fact, the building was primarily designed for hockey and it feels that way.
The lower bowl is huge and steep (as classic hockey rinks are) sending the even steeper mezzanine and upper deck higher up. But you’re horizontally closer to the ice. Sightlines are excellent, the videoboard wonderful, and the acoustics fantastic. I probably spent several minutes just staring at the lighted ceiling getting mesmerized by the color (in some ways, I’m a simple man). Concourses are designed to look like streets and may be the most attractive concession areas in any sports venue I’ve ever seen. The concession areas also had a lot of drink rails, allowing fans to eat with the help of a little ledge before returning to their seats.
I noticed a couple of negatives. The seats felt a little cramped, which is odd for a new arena. And the fan atmosphere was somewhat muted. I blame the latter on the Wings falling on hard times after decades of brilliance. After all, the team hasn’t won a playoff series since moving to the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, and haven’t even sniffed the playoffs since moving here. As such, many season ticket holders are just eating their seats. Most of those who do show up know subpar play when they see it (given their Original Six pedigree), and let the team know it.
Detroit bills itself as Hockeytown and I argue they have one of, if not THE, nicest buildings in hockey. I predict it will be bananas once the Wings put a championship-caliber product on the ice. So despite the current dulled in-rink vibe, I feel compelled to call it the best American arena in the Eastern time zone.