STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #8
- Location: Tampa, Florida
- Opened 1996
- Capacity 19,092
- Games attended: 5
- Last visited: 2022
You may be asking, “What the hell is an oversized arena in Florida doing in the Top 10 of the ratings?” But with a consistently competitive squad this past decade, the team pretty much fills the place nightly. Add a neat little downtown scene and the lovely Florida winter weather, and you have yourself a fun night out.
Since opening in 1996, Tampa Bay Lightning management has done a great job tweaking the arena experience, producing a strong on-ice product, and building a fan base. Those efforts have paid off: arguably, the Lightning has the strongest local fan base of any southern hockey market. Unlike other non-traditional markets, the home fans always “out loud” the visitors here. It has showed me that this area, despite having a transient population, CAN be a strong sports market if you have a good facility in the right part of town (take note Rays).
The pre-game festivities outside the arena’s main entrance, in an area dubbed Thunder Alley, offer some games, giveaways, a Cigar City brewpub, and a live band to get you in the right mood before you even get in the building; it’s also where fans flock for outdoor watch parties during the playoffs. Once inside, the well-signed arena is easy to navigate. Concessions are strong with several Floribbean options amongst the standard fare. The strong pre-game hype presentation involves on-ice projections, laser lights, smoke, and lightning bolts from ceiling-mounted Tesla coils. During the game, the fans make Amalie Arena a tough place to play. There’s even an organist playing a massive pipe organ to add to the hockey vibe.
There’s something to be said about seeing a well-played, exciting hockey game, then going outside to 70-degree weather, hopping on the free streetcar to Ybor City to continue the party until 2am despite being old and knowing you have an early morning wake-up the next day (hypothetically, of course). Bottom line, Lightning games are straight-ass fun. If you needed another reason to hit the Gulf Coast for a winter long weekend, consider coming when the Bolts are in town and check this place out.