Home of the NHL Buffalo Sabres and the National Lacrosse League Buffalo Bandits, First Niagara Center is one of the showpieces of the new indoor arenas that have been built over the last 15 years.
The 18,690 capacity arena is located at the foot of Main Street in downtown Buffalo, and is the anchor venue for an emerging neighborhood known as "Canalside," which is transforming Buffalo's Inner Harbor area into a mix of retail, residential and entertainment uses. The city's historic heritage as the terminus of the historic Erie Canal and gateway to the west is the main theme.
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 concession experience at First Niagara Center can be truly appreciated for its selection and pricing. Much of the standard ballpark fare can be found here, but look farther and you will find several unique Buffalo delicacies - Fresh carved Beef on Weck served on all levels, but the coolest carving station to hang out, is the "Pour Man's Aud Club" behind section 111. Many artifacts from the old Memorial Auditorium were brought over here to construct a replica feel of the old place.
Other specialty items include the Fried Bologna and Onions sandwich, of course Buffalo chicken wings (yes the real stuff), and also try the Buffalo chicken pizza. Canadian brews, especially Labatt's products are served here. Perry's Ice Cream is the local manufacturer and their sundaes are available. Upscale dining is provided in the premium Harbour Club, where separate membership, or possession of a 200 level club seat, is required for admission
Being in close proximity to the Canadian border, the arena has quite the feel of the Canadian hockey culture. The anthems of both countries are presented before the puck is dropped, a tradition which goes back to the franchise's founding in 1970. The Sabres have a substantial base of season ticket holders and casual fans who reside in Canada. And when a Canadian team is the opponent, look out, Especially with Toronto and Montreal in town, fans are clad in the visiting colors, and competing chants of "Let's Go Buffalo!" and "Go Leafs Go" or "Go Habs Go" attempt to drown each other out. Sabres hockey is an indelible part of the community, and games here almost always attract full crowds.
The best way to describe the neighborhood is a work in progress. The arena was constructed one block south of the old Memorial Auditorium, and was planned to be the lynchpin of vibrant urban redevelopment. But that progress has been slow. The reconstruction of the old Commercial Slip along the Buffalo River is complete, and that has been a draw. The Aud was demolished in 2009, and plans are to replace it with a commercial development anchored by a Bass Pro Shop. Other retail development is expected to follow.
But for now, First Niagara Center is still surrounded by many vacant tracts, used temporarily for parking and big expectations for the near future.
Good pregame and postgame hangouts include WJ Morriseys, Benchwarmers Sports Bar and Cobblestones, all on Mississippi Street just east of the arena. On the other side of I-190 is the Peral Street Grill and Brewery. Our favorite is the Washington Square Lounge a few blocks north up Washington Street, the wings and beers are ample and cheap.
The Chippewa Street entertainment district is on the north side of downtown, a short hop by car or free ride on the Metro Rail. For the true tourist, the Anchor Bar, birthplace of the chicken wing, is on Main Street just north of downtown.
Buffalo is one of the best hockey markets in the NHL, and its proximity to the Canadian border is one of the reasons why. Prior to joining the NHL in 1970, the city was a rabid AHL town, and fans with strong rabbit ears or roof antennas could easily bring in the CBC's Hockey Night In Canada telecasts from the Toronto stations. The Sabres/Leafs rivalry became instant and remains heated to this day.
Additionally, the area is a hotbed of amateur and minor league hockey, with many community rinks put to full use, and several OHL teams just a short drive away. During recent playoff runs, the streets of downtown Buffalo became huge party scenes on game night, with thousands of non ticketed fans packing the streets and bars to cheer on their team.
Despite a somewhat convoluted street grid, getting to the arena is not very difficult at all. Patrons can exit the I-190 at either Elm/Oak St or Church St and simply follow the signs to the arena. There is a ramp adjacent to the arena that is accessible with pre-purchased parking tags only, but general parking down Perry St is available ($8-$12). Additionally, there are plenty of private surface lots, as cheap as $3 if you care to walk. Meters on the street are not monitored after 5PM or on weekends.
Another popular way to get to the game is via Metro Rail, which runs down the middle of Main Street and ends right in front of the arena. The surface section which runs through downtown is a "fare free zone". Just hop on and ride for free. Once it goes underground prepare to pay $2 for the ride.
The Sabres have capped their season ticket base at about 15,000 seats and there is a good reason why. Season ticket holders get a 60% discount off of face value, and that makes ownership a bargain. A ticket two rows off the glass in the end zones can cost as cheap as $37, with the most expensive club seat going for only $89.
Retail is a different story, however, Games are classified as platinum, gold, silver, bronze or value depending on demand for the opponent, night of week, etc. Toronto games are almost always platinum priced, which means ticket prices anywhere from $78 to $233.
Nonetheless, a Sabres ticket is priced in the lower echelon compared to its peer teams, and the Sabres regularly offer 4 packs and specials to entice fans to attend the games. The "sellout" sign is a pretty regular occurrence.
Some of the cool historical features in the arena include a Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame exhibit, right on the ground floor of the pavilion next to the team store. Another historical timeline of Buffalo sports is worth checking out, in the Headlines sports bar overlooking the pavilion entrances.
Speaking of pavilion, this grand entrance to the arena is a signature in itself, sort of an indoor Main Street and offering dramatic views of the Buffalo skyline.
Also paying homage to the old site of the Aud, now a big hole in the ground on the corner of Main and Lower Terrace. Cranes should be in the air by summer of 2010 as the transformation of the Inner Harbor continues.
Like the Buffalo Bills, the NHL Buffalo Sabres are near and dear to the hearts of this Buffalo community who are so passionate about their sports teams and who so desperately crave just one championship in their lifetimes. Sabres hockey is an indelible part of the region, and game day at First Niagara Center is as exciting and energetic as anyplace in the National Hockey League.
Over an awesome place to watch a hockey game.
I've been to about 10 games in the past 3 seasons and only have eaten dinner at the arena once or twice - but the pizza was excellent. My uncle was upset with a sandwich that he got once at "Pile High" but there is plenty of variety so there is something for everyone. Prices are standard for a professional sporting venue.
I love the feeling of walking into the concourse seeing everyone in Sabres jerseys and walking through the team store; the atmosphere is top notch. I went to my first playoff game last weekend and that was an experience in itself.
You don't feel unsafe, but there are the usual scalpers and people begging for tickets - pretty standard.
No real rowdy, annoying, swearing drunkards around. Security does a good job keeping anyone down that gets out of hand. Lots of kids at every game.
DO NOT follow mapquest's directions for navigating downtown. Pretty easy to find the right exits and there is adequate signage around. Getting to the thruway heading East is a bit tricky after the game, but manageable.
Return on Investment:
Never actually bough tickets from the box office. Always used Craigslist and eBay - good deals to be had there. Most rivalry games will be classified as "gold" or "platinum" which will cost you. For a big Sabres fan though, it's usually worth it.
This is the only thing the Sabres lack, in my opinion - promotions! Yeah they have a little "history" exhibit near the team store, but they never have any giveaways. They always do a 50-50 raffle and did give out pom-poms for the playoffs, but I'd like to see more giveaways, personally.
Good place to watch an NHL game without the wallet pain of Toronto.
I've been to many events at the F'N Centre. Leafs games, Habs games (i guess the Sabres were there too) and a couple WWE shows.
As a Leafs fan I'll place the F'N Centre as my #1 place to watch a hockey game (Bell Centre is #2, ACC #3).
i found the rake of the seats in the upple bowl to be vertigo inducing, so never missed a second of the game.
the concourses were wide enough and the entrance is beautiful.
concessions i found to be the best I've seen in the NHL price wise and the staff friendly and helpful.
The atmosphere is great, Sabres fans are very welcoming when their rink is taken over by Habs/Leafs fans (as long as both are sober) joked along and were very knowledgeable.
as a visitor i found access to be not so great, but most of that blame is on the border traffic and traffic jams out of the parking lots.
surrounding neighbourhood isn't much to talk about but it's on it's way there. Don't get lost is all I'm saying.
I love visiting Buffalo for games, and recommend it for any travelling fan
There's lots to like about the F'N Center. Great fans that make a ton of noise and support their team. Some great places to eat and drink around the arena. My personal fav is the Pearl Street Grill. Easy to get to. Lots of parking. As a Canadian, it has always been a place that Canadians have been welcome, whether it is Sabrebucks, Canadian At Par Days, or the singing of the Canadian National Anthem at every game. The organ out in the crowd is awesome. I also love the Sabres coming out to signature song ... Sabre Dance.
Can't add much to Andrew's comprehensive review. Have to say the box office prices for silver and gold games are too high so the ROI suffers. There are only 3 bronze and 2 value games during the 24-game shortened season. Fans are good and sell out the venue but too many leave early in a tie game. The venue is now no-smoking and no re-entry is permitted for any reason.
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