The NHL is big business, right? Millions upon millions of dollars are spent on advertising, travel, staff, the players and of course, the venue; the arena where these gladiators of the ice strap on steel blades and give their blood, sweat and tears to entertain the fans who show up with these players’ names on the backs of their jerseys, who pay the insane amounts of money for food and parking just looking to be entertained. In some cities, the hockey arena is a temple where the pious fans go to pay homage to the beloved team that unites the city around them. In other cities, the hockey arena is just that big building down the street where 41 times a year, a big crowd gathers and the rest of the city is saying ” I don’t know what they do in there.”
Building an arena for an NHL team is important because it can garner interest from a fan base that might not be so inclined to watch hockey by providing them with amenities that hockey-mad cities like Montreal and Toronto do not need. Regardless of the reason it is being built, the end game is the same every time, to make lots of money. So what happens when an arena is built and people don’t come? Bankruptcy, very boring broadcasts and relocation (except in Phoenix. Hockey will survive the desert!). This article will take you through the top five most expensive arenas that were built to make money but have had lackluster attendance at best. The standard here, is that anything 10th and below will be considered to not have a strong attendance record. If the stadium is at max capacity and still below the “Mendoza Line” of 10th, they’ll still be judged and they should look to stadium improvements to match the costs of their stadiums.
5. Jobing.com Arena – Glendale, Arizona: $278 Million to Build, 30th in Attendance
Anyone who follows hockey probably had a hunch that this arena would make the list. This isn’t so much the case in Phoenix. What’s shocking is that it came in at number five, meaning the cost of building this arena was not as bad as in some other cities. Sure, their attendance is dead last in the entire NHL, but $278 million is not that expensive when it comes to building sports venues. The city is mainly the problem here, not to mention the state. The desert? Why would hockey survive here? Was the idea that people need to get out of the heat, so they expected them to come 41 times a year because there is ice? Jobing.com arena is in Glendale, Arizona, a half hour from the city, which does not really entice a casual hockey fan to drop in to see what hockey is all about. Location, location, location, they say. Someone definitely picked the wrong one when building this arena back in 2003 and they’ve only had an average attendance of 13,269 per game.
4. Verizon Center – Washington, DC: $376 Million to Build, 15th in League Attendance
Washington DC, Capital city of the United States. They have a decent hockey team and one of the NHLs biggest stars but they’re only 15th in the league in attendance. 15th? That isn’t so bad right? Right in the middle of the pack. Not empty enough to put the blackout curtains on the upper decks and not full enough to drown out the cheers of others teams fans coming into your building. It is however, a terrible number when your arena sits at the sixth most costly arena built in the NHL. This arena is in the middle of the city and the casual hockey fan can surely drop in after a break of studying whatever the White House chief of staff has set to do that day. The casual hockey fan does not, however. The team has been very good since the addition of Alex Ovechkin in 2006 but still the Verizon Center only rocks the red in the playoffs and the sixth most expensive hockey arena sits at an average attendance of 17, 889.
3. Prudential Center – Newark, New Jersey: $415 Million to Build, 23rd in Attendance
Based purely on the looks of this place, $415 million does not sound too daunting. Seems like a fun atmosphere, the pretty lights on the backdrop of early evening on game night in Newark. Wait, Where? Yes, in the shadow of New York City and its amazing sports scene, there is another team who is desperately trying to grasp at some of the money that spills out of Manhattan. A team that oddly enough has won three Stanley Cups since the Rangers last won in 1994. Sure, they won their cups by putting opponents to sleep with smothering defense, but surely victory is the cure to attendance no matter what the style of play is? Right? Not in New Jersey.
The last Stanley Cup they won was over ten years ago but they went to the final in 2011 and still the attendance is not there. At 23rd in league attendance, the NHLs fourth most expensive arena better start to yield some results. Maybe they should bring in an aging veteran to sell tickets…. oh wait, that was already done. Not even Jaromir Jagr can put butts in the seats in Newark. The blame does not fall on Jagr’s shoulders alone, obviously. The team is in a dogfight, which is only natural in any city bordering New York. They have other teams to battle in their own sport, and other teams to battle in other sports. It is a dog-eat-dog world out there and it seems no one is afraid to dance with the Devils, except the fans, apparently. To make matters worse, the arena’s other source of revenue, the New Jersey Nets, went to the greener pastures of Brooklyn. Their average attendance is 15,569.
2. Madison Square Garden – New York, New York: $867 Million to Build, 13th in League Attendance
This is a rather surprising one. This arena definitely makes money because it is full every night of the year. In the scope of the NHL however, it is only ranked at 13th in the league. MSG obviously wasn’t only built for hockey, but as far as this top 5 goes, the numbers are staggering. $876 million is by far the most expensive arena in the NHL and it is nearly double the cost of the second most expensive arena, which is coming up next on the list. It is in New York City and right in the middle of downtown, the team has been decent in the past few years, so why is it so empty? Of course, it is not empty like other arenas like in Carolina, Nashville or Columbus, but it is empty by NHL standards, especially considering the costs of construction, which were astronomical.
The cities mentioned previously like Columbus have very poor attendance indeed, but take into consideration that their arenas cost approximately four times less than the new MSG. This new construction, which was done in 2011, was made to put in more seats and luxury boxes, but it seems perhaps they weren’t enough. Again, there is no debate on whether or not the arena, or the Rangers, make money, because they do, but could they have spent less and made even more? Who knows? They have an average attendance for NHL games of 18,006.
1. American Airlines Center – Dallas, Texas: $551 million to Build, 28th in League Attendance
Who wants to rag on Texas all the time? Seems like everyone. The people in Dallas definitely don’t want to have anything to do with the Dallas Stars though. Even with fresh young faces like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, the Stars cannot fill up this arena. Perhaps Tony Romo should strap on the blades and choke away a Dallas Stars playoff appearance. The crowds would surely flock to this venue if Jessica Simpson were dating Jamie Benn, and thus ruining his Olympic Gold aspirations.
American Airlines arena has taken first place in this top five because after spending over half a billion dollars, it sits at 28th in league attendance. Plain and simple, no one is going. The team does have a Stanley Cup to boast about in 1999 (what have you done for me lately?) and some emerging young talent. Perhaps this talent can translate into success on the ice and propel this venue into a respectable class for attendance numbers.
Sports fans in Dallas do have a lot to choose from. The football stadium seats half the population, though rarely competes directly with the NHL given the schedule. There asre the Texas Rangers of the MLB and of course the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA who play in the same arena, so the games never conflict. Given that, it would be expensive to purchase tickets for both teams. Sports fans in Dallas must make a choice and it’s obvious that they do not choose the Stars. Their average attendance is 14,213.