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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Elmira Jackals have been entertaining fans in the Southern Tier of New York since 2000, when they joined the long-defunct United Hockey League. The Jackals have since moved up to the ECHL, where they have played at hockey’s AA level since 2007. The First Arena is the smallest venue in the league, and provides the Jackals with a solid home-ice advantage.
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".
The menu at First Arena doesn't stray too far from the usual. Hungry hockey fans can choose from three main concession stands, all offering the same menu. Hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets can be found here, as well as French fries, popcorn, nachos, and pretzels. Items can be combined into value meals for frugal hockey fans looking to save a few dollars. Coca-Cola products are featured in Elmira.
Fans looking for a little variety can choose from a few portable carts selling items such as ice cream, popcorn, and a decent selection of beer and wine at remarkably affordable prices for a professional arena. There is a cart on the concourse selling freshly sliced roast beef and turkey sandwiches for the more discerning palate.
A new addition to the First Arena experience is the Split Rock Brewery, a brew pub that offers a sampling of craft brews and menu items that is open to fans before, during and after Jackal games. On weekend nights live music is offered in an attempt to attract fans. Locals recommend the poutine.
Fans desiring a souvenir of their visit to Elmira will be pleased to find a small, but well-stocked team store located in the arena.
Despite the fact that First Arena is one of the smaller professional venues around, it delivers a first-rate game day experience for a venue of its size. In fact, the small size of the arena enhances the experience here. The Jackals have been averaging around 2,600 fans per game, and if First Arena were much bigger, the crowd would seem, well, not so crowded. What would be considered a small crowd elsewhere fills up a good percentage of First Arena, and these fans can cheer on the home team with the best of them. Small town touches such as a rehearsed give and take with the PA announcer work well here.
Elmira is a small, working class town of just over 29,000 in the south-central part of New York, located just over the Pennsylvania state line. The city was incorporated in 1964 and was the site of a civil war prison camp, and to this day the leading employers in the area are the five New York state correctional facilities located within 55 miles of Elmira.
Mark Twain called Elmira home for 20 years, writing some of his best known works while living here. Both his former study and his gravesite are popular destinations for visitors, as is the National Soaring Museum located just outside the city. Another popular destination in the area is the Corning Museum of Glass in nearby Corning.
Out of town fans will usually choose to stay in neighboring Horseheads, located about five miles to the west of Elmira. The area is home to several hotels, shopping areas, and chain restaurants.
Downtown Elmira cannot be described as bustling, and the majority of fans at Jackals games head back home immediately after the game's end. Despite the lack of activity in the area, there are a few local spots favored by fans.
Roundin' Third is a sports bar located a block from First Arena, and can get very crowded before and after Jackals games. Hockey fans craving that natural connection between the sport of winter and Mexican food should check out Los Panchos Mexican Restaurant.
Despite the fact that the Jackals rank near the bottom of the ECHL attendance standings, the fans that do come out to First Arena create a solid buzz throughout the game. There is a good mix of families and regulars here. The Jackals debuted in 2000 in the long-defunct United Hockey League, and joined the ECHL in 2007. Despite the lack of any playoff success in a decade, and no substantial playoff runs during their time in the ECHL, the Jackals maintain a strong presence in the Elmira area.
First Arena is very easy to get to. Follow Interstate 86 to Exit 56 (Church St.), and follow Church Street about a mile into downtown. Since Elmira is a small town, virtually everyone going to Jackals games will travel by car. There is no public transportation to speak of here, as is the case in most cities of this size. Parking around the arena is plentiful. Fans arriving early can find a great deal of free on-street parking. Fans missing out on the free spots can choose from several surface lots within a couple of city blocks of First Arena, and there is also a good sized parking garage located a block away. Prices to park for a Jackals game max out at an affordable $5.
Once inside First Arena, fans will enter through one of two small lobbies into the U-shaped concourse. Beware, the concourse is quite narrow and can be quite cramped when crowds are large. Likewise, the available bathrooms can get very crowded when a capacity crowd is in attendance. Lines can and do form during intermissions, so plan accordingly.
Tickets for Jackals games range from $12-$18, which is very affordable for this level of hockey. All seats in First Arena provide good views of the action, as the small size of the arena guarantees all seats are close to the ice. Parking within a couple of blocks of the arena costs no more than $5, and food prices are on a par with other venues at this level of hockey. A family can afford to attend a Jackals game without breaking the bank.
An extra point is awarded for the very friendly and very helpful staff at First Arena. Many venues champion their customer service, but no one matches the service provided here. From the folks manning the ticket office to the ushers and concession staff to the front office personnel, the staff go out of their way to make every fan present feel comfortable.
An additional extra point is awarded for the great deal of community involvement present at every Jackals game. Not only are the standard jersey raffles and 50/50 raffles for charity present here, but the team holds an annual Pink in the Rink game, raffling jerseys off for charity. In addition, several local non-profit groups are present nightly raising funds for their causes, ranging from Alzheimer's disease to the local Boy Scout troop.
While attending a game at First Arena, you will never lose sight that you are far off the beaten path. Still, it is a great place to take in a game. First Arena and the Elmira Jackals provide a solid, if not spectacular, game night experience. Throw in affordable prices, friendly staff, and the right amount of small-town touches, and First Arena plays second fiddle to no other arena of its size anywhere.
Member Review by akulyk
First Arena is a 3,784 seat, multi-purpose entertainment venue located in the heart of Elmira, New York. Opened in 2000 as the "Coach USA Center", this arena's primary tenant is the Elmira Jackals, which at one timed competed in the now defunct United Hockey League but now plays in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).
Member Review by morehockeyinpa! on Mar 11, 2014
Decided to take a road trip to watch my team playing against the Jackals. Had a surprisingly good time while I was there.
It's a smaller arena than I'm used to, but fairly modern and with no bad views of the ice. My wife and I had tickets in the "restaurant" section, and weren't sure what to expect. It turned out great: balcony seats overlooking the home team's two-attack net, with easy access to a full a full service bar (with reasonable drink prices) and private restrooms. Seriously, it's the most VIP treatment I've ever had at a sporting event, and it cost all of $24 per ticket.
Fans were very into the game, and very vocal about it, but mostly decent. Only once did I hear any fan chants or taunts that I thought were in poor taste, and most of the fans I could see seemed to agree with me (as opposed to some other barns I've visited where beer-soaked crude language and vulgar gestures are the norm and the fans pride themselves on it). Everyone I spoke to was friendly, or at least good natured, despite me sporting the visiting team's jersey.
Neighborhood was kind of rundown, with a lot of boarded up buildings and empty storefronts. We had a hard time finding anything to eat in the afternoon before the game. Seemed like everything was closed until four or five in the afternoon, save for one sports pub that served so-so burgers. We didn't bother with food at the game. After the game though, we had a great pizza at Pudgie's, just south of the arena.
As someone who enjoys cheering my team on in hostile territory, I definitely will make it a point to catch another game in Elmira next season.
255 W Water St
Elmira, NY 14901
250 W Water St
Elmira, NY 14901
51 Soaring Hill Dr
Elmira, NY 14903
1 Museum Way
Corning, NY 14830
105 E Mall Rd
Horseheads, NY 14845