NHL Stadium Review: Gila River Arena

The then Phoenix, and now Arizona, Coyotes badly needed a new stadium when the team moved way south from Winnipeg in 1996. Initially the Coyotes played at America West Arena (now Talking Stick Resorts Arena) which is the home of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and is located in downtown Phoenix. The problem is that this arena was purely built for basketball and while retrofitting was done for hockey, the arena floor was only just big enough to hold a regulation size rink and as a result the seating capacity of the venue had to be lowered for hockey games. The difference in floor position from the basketball court to the hockey rink also led to many of the seats having obstructed views.

Gila River Arena

Gila River Arena is among the best in the nation.

With an ownership change as the spur the decision was made to build a new arena in suburban Glendale, Arizona. This area is located about 12.5 miles away from downtown Phoenix, but was seen as the ideal spot based on demographics and cost. Thus in 2003 the Glendale Arena opened at a cost of $220 million. After rolling through a number of years as the Jobing.com Arena, the Coyotes recently signed a new naming rights deal with Gila River Casinos. This deal means that the Gila River community becomes the first federally recognized Native American tribe to have a naming rights venue with one of the big four sports teams.
For their money the Gila River community has its name on a very nice NHL arena. The sleek, modern look is noticeable from the moment you enter the arena as the concourses almost all open up onto the ice allowing people to stand and watch in places if they don’t feel like sitting the entire time. The upper concourse takes this one step further with a built in shelf for food where patrons can intermix with other fans while eating and watching the action. The arena has also taken the extra step of tying in with the team colors, with sand colored walls and Sedona Red seats; the whole feel is very Coyotes and very Arizona.
Focusing on how bad the seating was at the Coyote’s former home means that the seating at Gila River Arena is among the best in the nation. All the seats are flexed so they face toward center ice and there is not a single obstructed view in the house. Some of the upper bowl seats are a little steep, but the club seating, luxury suites and other premium seating tiers are well worth the extra money. The video boards are above average, but the sound system steals the show. This sound system blasts music during every break in play, but the Gila River Arena is known for being one of the best concert venues in the country and the acoustics even at an NHL game are very impressive.
One of the coolest features of this arena is the collection of hockey jerseys which hang above the various concession stands on the concourses. Some jerseys are standard which everyone will have seen before; some are historically relevant, while others are just bizarre. At the very least these collections are instant conversation starters when you are standing in line waiting for either the typical arena food or, at certain spots, higher quality deli sandwiches.
image courtesy of nhl.com

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