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Official Review by Harrison Huntley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
While not built specifically for hockey, the Crown Coliseum has been home to minor league hockey since it first opened its doors in 1997. Until 2001, the Fayetteville Force kept the Coliseum full and the fans made it loud. Unfortunately, the novelty of hockey wore off with local fans and the team folded along with many when the CHL condensed. The next year, the FireAntz came to town and several years later, the team continues to rank in the upper half of Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) attendance. While Crown Coliseum may not be the greatest hockey venue, it is certainly one of the SPHL’s best.
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".
Crown Coliseum has an impressive spread of concessions. Just about anything you would want to find at a sporting event, the Coliseum is bound to have it. There is a huge, open area that the staff affectionately calls "the food court." The food court features four different stands along with numerous carts. Coca-Cola is the beverage choice. Outside of the usual concessions, there are nuts, pastries, smoothies, and BBQ sandwiches. If you can't find something you like at Crown Coliseum, you probably aren't looking hard enough.
Even when the fans are into it, the Coliseum is bigger than most minor league arenas and it tends to drown out some of the energy. The FireAntz bring in an above average amount of fans, yet it feels like less because the Coliseum is so big. The emptiness aside, the FireAntz definitely know how to make fans happy. There are theme nights, promotions galore, and many other ways for fans to get involved.
The theme nights are all listed on the team's website. There is scout night, military appreciation night, star wars night, and kids night, which is when I attended. For kids night, each kid that bought a horn is invited to come on to the ice at intermission and blow as loud as they can.
The promotions and games are generic (chuck-a-puck, dance off, etc.). One issue the Coliseum has is the lack of multiple cameras. During games that focus on individual fans, it is hard to see them due to lack of cameras. The FireAntz only have one camera, and it cannot focus on any one fan.
In 2013, the FireAntz added an area for fans that is called "The Pub." A simple idea, an open spot on the club level features a bar, a TV, and several tables. This offers fans a different perspective on the game at no extra charge to them.
The coliseum itself is part of a much larger complex called the Crown Center. Much like the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, the Crown Center has a small arena, ballroom, expo center, theatre, and the coliseum itself.
The only problem with the Crown Center is the lack of business around it. The area offers ample parking, but few options for post-game festivities.
The team tries to combat this by organizing post-game hangouts at Carolina Ale House, located not too far from the Crown Center.
Although you may not believe it at first, these fans actually know a thing or two about hockey. They are loud and behave like some of the best puckheads around. The only problem is that there aren't enough fans to fill the Coliseum. The fans that do come are excellent, banging on the boards, starting their own cheers, and wearing the team's jerseys. The only thing that detracts is the fact that the fans don't fill the Coliseum. The FireAntz rank near the top of attendance numbers in the SPHL, yet the Crown Coliseum makes this rather large fan base look relatively small.
Fayetteville, North Carolina is part of the state's I-95 corridor, making it an easy city to visit from anywhere on the east coast. The Crown Coliseum is only about 15 minutes off of the highway, an overall easy drive.
Once inside the complex, the availability of parking is subject to what else is happening at the Crown Center. The night I attended, Bill Cosby was performing at the theatre making parking a little challenging. When the FireAntz are the only event of the night, parking is much easier. It may be a good idea to check schedules and see what else may be going on before you head out to a FireAntz game.
Even though it's about on par, I can't help but feel like $14 is a bit much for a upper level ticket to a minor league hockey game (a lower level league as well). The story is the same with concessions. While not much more expensive than the average concessions, it just feels like you're paying for more than what you are getting in return.
The management goes to great lengths to try and get the town involved. These events happen about once a month, and are simple ways that the team interacts with the city. There are post-game hangouts at the local Carolina Ale House, pre-game pep rallies at Hooters, meet and greets at Fazoli's, and post-game on ice meet and greets.
If you haven't noticed yet, the team spells Antz with a "z." However, that's not the only thing that carries a "z." All over the website, video board, and other signage, you see words like "ticketz", "newz", and "fanz." Just another clever minor league promotion.
One thing that amazes me about the FireAntz fans is the number of FireAntz jerseys in the crowd. Normally, you expect to see a few of the team's jerseys, but many other of professional teams mixed in (especially with the Carolina Hurricanes being so close in Raleigh at PNC Arena). I don't think I saw a single jersey that wasn't a FireAntz one. In fact, I felt almost out of place not wearing one.
The Fayetteville FireAntz are an example of what minor league sports should be about. With a pro team only an hour away, the FireAntz know that they have to be different from them. So they don't attempt to match the Hurricanes, instead they take a different approach. They embrace the city of Fayetteville and in turn, it seems the city has embraced the team. No minor league arena (or major league arena for that matter) is without its flaws, but the Crown Coliseum is an overall great place to see hockey, even if it's not in a typical hockey market.
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