During the 2014-2015 season the Florida Panthers were known in the news for being the team that had a franchise low for attendance. In addition, they experienced the smallest season-opener crowd in franchise history. The few fans that showed up could carry on conversations in the upper deck that could be clearly heard in the lower bowl. However, an injection of young talent and a streamlined stadium experience has led to a growing crowd and an even better game day atmosphere. That said, the Panthers still have plenty of places to grow.
BB&T Arena is located in Sunrise, Florida, more than 30 miles north of downtown Miami. The arena has been the home of the Panthers since it opened in 1998, and has a capacity 19,250 when it is aligned for hockey.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
As with any sports arena, food and drinks include the standards of burgers, fries, hot dogs, and chicken fingers. However, the 2015-2016 season has seen a complete renovation of the food offerings at the BB&T Center, adding specialty items scattered throughout the arena.
One of the biggest draws for beverages is the Tim Horton's coffee carts in the arena, a must have for coffee lovers and hockey fans alike. There is also a candy only station and an all kosher food station in addition to the traditional fare available. Premium sandwiches and crab fries from northeast favorite Chickie's & Pete's also populate the menu.
However, a buffalo chicken cheesesteak, while amazing and delicious, will cost you $15, not including a drink or side of fries. Pricing is higher than you would pay at a restaurant or store, but that won't come as a shock to most sports fans. The bottomless soda that comes in a collectible cup for $11 is a must have for large families who don't mind sharing a drink and running down to refill it throughout the evening.
At the start of the 2014-2015 season, the Panthers drew their smallest official attendance in franchise history, barely creeping over 7,000 fans, which was probably inflated over the actual number of fans in the seats. However, 2015-2016 features a much bigger crowd at games, even the generally empty mid-week matchups. The team's Halloween night game against Washington drew a solid crowd when in years' past it would have remained relatively empty. The fans at Florida Panthers games are also becoming more knowledgeable, aided in no small part by the influx of exciting young talent to the team with grizzled veterans.
The second factor to a game day experience is the visiting fans. South Florida is a haven for Canadian snowbirds who come down for the winter. While here, they pack the BB&T Center whenever the Jets, Canucks, Canadiens, Flames, Maple Leafs, Senators, or Oilers come to town, creating a near-home arena effect for the visitors. Similar crowds arrive for Bruins, Rangers, and Flyers games, making for a unique atmosphere.
The BB&T Center is situated in a great area of South Florida. Nestled literally on the edge of the Everglades, the other side of the arena is bordered by Sawgrass Mills Mall, full of shopping and eating options. Several nice neighborhoods also surround the area, with homes always looking well manicured and roads remaining clean and clear. The people are friendly and welcoming.
When looking for a place to stay, hotels are easy to find both in the immediate surrounding area as well as several exits to the north, south, and east on either I-75 or I-595. Restaurants at the mall across the street include the likes of California Pizza Kitchen and Cheesecake Factory, as well as simpler locations like Chili's and Steak N Shake.
Having to deal with many of the aforementioned issues, fans in South Florida are among the worst when it comes to being fair-weather fans. However, the Panthers are unique as they have a small but extremely passionate fan base and group of season ticket holders that buy into the team wholeheartedly. They buy every new jersey, every new gimmick the team comes out with (beware of the cow bells from the late 2000's PR push), and they scream as loud as anyone in the league, when they show up. The recent influx of talent and subsequent winning streaks has also begun to re-attract some of the fans who had begun to lose the faith and interest in the Panthers.
Thankfully, winning solves many problems, and as the fans continue to take notice of the franchise again, they will fill the seats once again, making for a rowdy game day crowd thriving for quality hockey.
Getting to the BB&T Center is very easy. The arena is situated literally feet from one of the biggest highway interchanges in South Florida, with I-75 and I-595 meeting, giving equal access from Miami to the south, Ft. Lauderdale to the east, Ft. Myers to the west, and Palm Beach to the north. Additionally, there is an exit right off of the highway that literally empties into the parking lot of the arena. Parking on site can run upwards of $20, but it is plentiful. Thanks for a corporate partnership, if you happen to be driving a Lexus, then you'll get free parking onsite right in front of the stadium entrance.
For the average fan looking to tick off a stadium from their list of NHL arenas, BB&T Center is a decent one to visit. The Panthers are hit-or-miss in terms of on-ice performance, but lately the trend has been moving upward. While food may be a little too pricey for most, the quality of the on-ice product is on the rise. There is also a lot to see at the games which makes the atmosphere a lot more fun than it has been in the past.
During pre-game, all fans are allowed to visit the ice level seats to watch practices for both teams. This can be quite an experience for someone who can only afford tickets to the upper level. Some fans also may get a free puck from time to time.
Throughout the game, there are entertaining games played by fans and the in-arena host Andrea Ocampo (a fantastically talented young woman with a fresh and energetic personality) gives away prize packs or tickets to an upcoming concert.
Fans can also get some quality throwback uniforms and team merchandise in the old-time sports store located in the lower concourse. Right next to that is the Den of Honor, a hall of fame of sorts for the Panthers to honor the greats who have passed through the team and to help the fans relive some of the team's most memorable and influential moments.
If you want to see how a pre-game show is taped, fans can get up close to the pre-show on the outside patio right in front of the entrance.
Finally, beginning with the 2015-2016 season, the Panthers have added live musicians in between periods in the bar area open to all fans in attendance, situated above the team store in the main lobby of the BB&T Center.
All-in-all, the BB&T Center is family friendly and provides a quaint atmosphere. The 2015-2016 season is proving that this quaint atmosphere can also swell into a roaring crowd thanks to successful records. In addition, a better game day experience has led to a more welcoming environment. The Panthers are definitely on the upswing, and a visit to the BB&T Center will certainly reflect that trend.
Opened in 1998, the glitzy BankAtlantic Center is the home of the NHL Florida Panthers. When the Panthers departed from their original home, the old Miami Arena in downtown Miami, they wanted to place with a more central geographic footprint in the massive Dade/Broward market, so their new digs were built near the more upscale communities of Sunrise and Plantation. Being in a non-traditional hockey market, with salubrious warm weather and the lack of a natural fan base, have posed challenges. Yet the Panthers soldier on.
The cultural, financial, and population center of the area of the Florida East Coast known as "South Florida" is Miami, yet South Florida's hockey team, the Florida Panthers, are not in Miami - well, not anymore. They currently reside in the $185 million arena built by Broward County, the BB&T Center (formerly known as the BankAtlantic Center), which is also the second-largest professional-sports arena in the US, behind only the Blackhawks' United Center in total seating capacity (but as you'll soon read, not actual capacity).
Despite their relatively-short history, this is the second home to the Panthers. Their original home (as well as the NBA's Miami Heat) was the Miami Arena, located in downtown Miami. Opened in 1988 in time for the Heat's first season, the arena soon came under scrutiny for being too small to handle the demand for either team. Soon, the hunt was on for a new home for each, and with a deadline imposed by the Panthers' owner of August 31, 1998, the city of Sunrise and the Broward County officials came through in 1996 with funding to build a new home for the Panthers near the popular Sawgrass Mills Mall.
The arena opened 33 days after the deadline on October 3, still in enough time for the 1998-99 season to be played entirely in the new arena. Given the nickname of "The Center of It All" in the corporate naming deals and for the fact they constantly draw big names even with the Heat's AmericanAirlines Arena's location next to the core population, this arena has a lot to live up to. Especially since the Panthers aren't quite the draw they used to be.
Since 1998, the BankAtlantic Center has been the home of the Florida Panthers, the first having been the now demolished Miami Arena. The BAC was built out at the edge of the Everglades in Sunrise in order to attract fans from Broward and West Palm Beach counties. Sunrise is an outer suburb of Fort Lauderdale, home mostly to gated developments, strip malls and the Sawgrass Mills mall and outlet center.
While the Florida Panthers set the bar high early with the best ever record for an expansion team their first season and a Cinderella run to the Cup final in their third, the team has only been to the playoffs once since they moved to their current home, back in the 1999-2000 season. Nevertheless, the eternally optimistic hardcore fanbase return year after year in hopes that this is the year.
I was intrigued to hit the BankAtlantic Center, as the experience of the Florida Panthers has one of the worst reputations in the league. In Ontario, the radio personalities joke that you get free tickets when you buy a bottle of vodka at the liquor store!
I was mildly impressed with the experience. Some of the things that have been viewed as poor in the past were just fine for me. As a traveller, and not a local, being far away from central Miami is no big deal. In fact, being next door to the largest outlet mall ever was perfect. Day at Sawgrass followed by an evening of hockey. Free parking was awesome of course. The game we were at was well attended, probably because it was over the Christmas break and they were playing the Canadiens ... in front of thousands of Quebecois! What impressed me about the fans was their resiliance. They stayed true to their team, fought with their Go Panthers Go cheer, and serenaded the leaving Canadiens fans with Go Home Habs upon leaving after a Panthers victory.
What I didn't like were probably the worst concession prices I've experienced. Way too high. I also felt that my ticket price was also too high.
I loved the return of the "Victory Rat" and the return of the rat motif from back in the 90's. The highlight of the game was watching the rats fly on the ice after the Panthers won.
Overall, we had a good time, but my question is: are some of the Panther problems due to price points and not location, or apathy?
The Florida Panthers have only made the playoffs twice in the 21st century, but their home ice is one of the best in the NHL. The BB&T Center, the Panther’s home venue since 1998, is a great arena to watch a game, and it offers fans the coolest of seating and dining, and is a true sporting experience.
Getting great seats to see professional hockey is not that difficult in South Florida. Fans can come close to game time and buy seats near the glass from the box office. The fan is not to miss hard-hitting hockey action from any seat in the facility, but for those that are hardcore and want to sit near the glass and see all of the checks as they are about to be delivered, the BB&T Center in the place for you.
Hockey in South Florida seems like a bit of an oxymoron. Indeed, the Florida Panthers are one of the NHL’s most lackluster teams in league history, but their record is not always indicative of their effort on the ice. Nonetheless, this unrealized potential in one of America’s largest sports markets screams of a team and a stadium experience right on the edge of exploding into one of the best in the country.
After going over 10 years without a playoff appearance, the Panthers rebranded themselves to their original red color scheme and spent a lot on big-name players, helping propel the team to its first ever conference title and a playoff berth.
Towards the end of that fateful 2011-2012 season, crowds began to swell at the BB&T Center, creating a truly electric atmosphere. However, those times have changed and the Florida Panthers are beginning to be in the news for drawing low crowds.
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