STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANKING: #30
- Location: Sunrise, Florida
- Opened 1998
- Capacity 19,250
- Games attended: 2
- Last visited: 2015
Non-traditional hockey markets need to make the game an event. It helps when the arena is situated in a thriving downtown around several local establishments.
Unfortunately, the Florida Panthers’ arena is in swampland some 40+ miles north northwest of South Beach. If you cross the Sawgrass Expressway to the west, you’re literally in the Everglades. Fans coming from downtown Miami can be looking very easily at a 2+ hour round-trip commute. Add to that years of on-ice mediocrity, the fact that Miami is a fairweather sports town, and hockey being very much a niche in South Florida, and it’s no wonder that the arena often has thousands of empty seats every game. And while the fans who DO show up are passionate, the so-so crowds impact the overall vibe of the place and drops it down the ranking.
The arena itself, like all rinks built since the Clinton Administration, is a fine building. Built in 1998, the BB&T Center is in immaculate shape, with everything still looking fresh. It’s surrounded on the outside by well-manicured landscaping, giving it a distinctive “Florida vibe”. Onsite parking is easy and plentiful with 7,000 spots. And while there are wetlands to the west, the arena borders a huge mall, giving hockey fans the option of some chain eateries for pre or post-gaming (though the long drive home would really cut down on the drinks).
Game day atmosphere is family-friendly rather than rowdy. In years when the Panthers are good, the place has more buzz. In years when the Panthers are not, it’s pretty flat. Regardless of how the team is going, games can be more fun when the snowbirds’ teams come to town as split crowds are always more interesting. Consider a match-up versus one of the Canadian teams, the Bruins, Rangers or Flyers. And of course, a playoff game (though rare lately) leads to a buzzy building and the re-emergence of the (plastic) rat throwing tradition.
The rink will likely have a new name thanks to the recent merger between SunTrust and BB&T. Whatever it’s officially called, I just call it far.