A letter potential hockey markets: Stop making your arenas so damn big

One thing I think about way too often is how I would make the perfect arena for the leagues we discuss here.

For the NAHL or FHL, I would make something along the lines of this: 10-12 rows on each side of the rink, which would be around 2000 seats. An extra-wide concourse behind the seats so you could add another 6-8 rows (or suites) if you ever needed it in the future. Behind one of the goals have platform standing room, as in, standing room like seats where you get an assigned spot, but it has a bar-like table that runs in front of your spot so you can put down snacks, drinks, your phone, whatever, and I would do 3-4 rows of that, and then at the other end of the rink maybe you have parties areas that groups can rent out, and if need be in the future, could easily be turned into permanent seats.

This layout would give you room for around 2000 to 3000 fans, with the potential to expand that to around 3000 to 5000 if your team or city needed it. Not too big to where 60 percent of the arena is empty every night, but not too small to where you’re routinely having to turn people away at the door.

And that’s the problem with so many hockey markets, or potential hockey markets. You have an area that might support hockey if there was the right venue for it, but then a town like Richmond, VA talks about building a 17,000-seat arena, and you wonder what the hell league would play in there, in ANY sport, because Richmond is not getting a NHL or NBA team, and that size arena is insanely too big for any minor league.

And listen, I get that 95% of arenas out there either aren’t being built, or weren’t built specifically for hockey, but you do not need 17,000 seats in a place like Richmond or any other market that size. For what? That you might get Taylor Swift or some other big concert to come to town maybe 3-4 times a year? Or that you might get the NCAA Basketball Tournament or something similar to come once every four years? It’s insane. And then you have a giant 17,000 seat arena sitting there empty for 350 days a year because it’s too big to get a minor league team in there, and the town is too small for a major league team.

Even if you curtain off the upper deck in this potential arena, you’re still probably at 10,000 seats in just the lower bowl and suites, and at that capacity you better be getting an AHL team, or it’s still way too big.

And all it does is drive up prices for rent that most teams in the ECHL, SPHL, FHL, USHL, or NAHL can’t afford, and forces them to pay for more concession workers, ushers, and security, and all the other stuff you need to operate an arena, even if the area those workers are in has hardly any people actually in it.

And I get that in a lot of towns, particularly the SPHL and NAHL’s South Division, that the giant 10,000 seat public arena that was built in 1980 is the only place in town you can play, but it makes for such bad optics and atmosphere, that on a night you might get a big crowd in there…the place still isn’t even half-full.

My hometown team in the NAHL last season was 6th in the league in attendance at 2098 fans a night, about 900 fans above the NAHL average of 1271 per game. They play in a 5000-seat rink, which means that on the average night, there are still nearly 3000 empty seats. They could take out 1000 seats tomorrow and in the two seasons I’ve been here, they would still have exactly zero sellouts. And again, this is one of the best teams in the league in terms of attendance.

Shoot, the team that led the league in attendance at 2950 plays in an arena that does just under 10,000 for hockey, meaning that even the league-leader in attedanec still have 7 empty seats for every 10 in the arena.

Take a look at the SPHL attendance and their arena capacity, all capacities are from the arena’s Wikipedia page, so some may not be completely accurate:

Huntsville – 4774 (6,000 for hockey)
Peoria – 3856 (9,919 for hockey)
Knoxville – 3824 (6,500 for hockey
Pensacola – 3695 (8,150 for hockey)
Roanoke – 3360 (10,600 for hockey)
Fayetteville – 2989 (10,000 for hockey)
Birmingham – 2622 (5,000 for hockey)
Macon – 2390 (7,182 for hockey)
Mississippi (since folded) – 2324  (8,400 for hockey)
Evansville – 2309 (9,000 for hockey)

This means that the league averaged 3,214 fans a night, and their arenas averaged a capacity of 8,070 fans. Or, the average SPHL arena is at 40 percent capacity on any given night. And this is a league that requires 4,000 seats for a potential team to join, even though just one team eclipsed that mark last season. Realistically in the SPHL, you never need more than 6,000 seats.

Now, some teams did try to cut down on size by curtaining off the upper deck, like Quad City did in its final season, so some of those numbers may vary, but the point remains, these towns build MASSIVE arenas for…something. And the teams and people who actually use them night-in night-out, are playing in a massive bowl that is mostly empty, even on a big night, save for Huntsvillee, Knoxville, and Birmingham.

But again, why do places like Fayetteville, or Roanoke, or Peoria need 10,000 seat arenas? Taylor Swift or whatever major band probably isn’t coming to town, and if they are, it might be once a year. So you have 10,000-plus seats just in case something happens once a year.

My point in all this is, why do cities, or privately funded arenas, build such massive places, when at the minor league level, which is what pretty much every city we talk about on here is going to get or settle for, you just aren’t going to fill it consistently? Why not build a more reasonable 6-8k seat place that will still get fairly big concerts, but not the GIANT ones that routinely only hit major cities, and will make for a more cozy atmosphere for hockey, basketball, indoor football, or whatever other tenants you have in there that use the place more than once a year?

So please, the next time a town is considering building a new arena, use a little common sense and build on the side of caution, or at least build where you could reasonably expand the capacity if it is ever needed, because unless you’re getting an NHL, AHL, or NBA team, you never need a giant 10,000+ seat arena that


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