First Niagara Center, the home of the NHL Buffalo Sabres and NLL Buffalo Bandits, still has the look and feel of a new arena even though it’s been open since 1996. It was built just a block away from Buffalo’s old Memorial Auditorium, a beloved sports barn that served the region for over half a century and was recently demolished. The arena, located at the foot of Main Street in Buffalo, is the anchor of the emerging Canalside and Cobblestone districts, which are finally seeing interest and development after too long a period of stasis and inertia. Attached to the First Niagara Center is the newly opened HarborCenter, a mixed use facility with parking, two hockey rinks, fitness center and hockey training facility, restaurants and retail, and a new hotel. Buffalo is positioning itself as a first class destination for tournaments and sports travel, and the hockey arena is right in the middle of things.
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 food presentation has always been pretty good at First Niagara Center, but the Sabres and their concessionaire have taken it to yet another new level. The concourses are replete with specialty food stands, and Buffalo cuisine is abundant throughout the facility. A must have is Buffalo's famed beef-on-weck sandwich, a salt encrusted roll with shaved roast beef, and add spicy horseradish sauce on top ($8 with kettle chips side). The Bologna and fried onions sandwich is another hidden local concoction ($6). Specialty hot dogs with a local theme, such as the Sabre Coney dog, Elmwood dog, North Buffalo dog ($7.00), or the flatbread pizza ($6.75) which come with toppings such as spinach, artichokes and chicken. Locally produced pizza logs ($6) come with marinara sauce for dipping. The Mexican stand offers a Buffalo chicken burrito ($9.25). We haven't even started with the routine fare such as burger baskets ($8), Polish or Italian sausage ($6.25), deli sandwiches, and the whole gamut of Perry's ice cream flavors. Up on the club level, the bacon-on-a-stick ($5) is to die for. Beer offerings are plenty and varied, from the ubiquitous Budweiser and Labatts brands to more exotic offerings such as Stella or Shock Top ($9.25 for large can).
The building exudes an energy which screams history and tradition. There is a Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame display right next to the team store. Backlit placards celebrating great hockey moments adorn the Blue Zone on the mezzanine in the pavilion. Player murals line the concourse walls. The seating bowl has been accented in team blue and gold colors. Enhancements to technology - new HD board and ribbon boards, have added much to the building.
About the only drawback is the muted energy in the crowd. With several years of non playoff hockey, the enthusiasm level has dropped somewhat. Picking a better atmosphere is as easy as picking the opponent - the Bruins and Flyers are hated rivals so having them in the building always jacks up the noise level The presence of any Canadian team, especially the Toronto Maple Leafs, brings throngs of fans from across the border supporting the visitors. It makes for good fun.
Canalside is hopping. It's happening. The down side is that the responsibility for the neighborhood's growth has been entrusted to a public state agency which is choked in its own quicksand. The pace of development has been excruciatingly slow and the development corporation is squarely to blame. But the good news is, with the opening of HarborCenter, and the opening of a grid of historically aligned canals replicating the path of the old Erie Canal, the district is becoming a people magnet, and commerce is following. Take in the ice skating and festivities on the canals, and when the weather is good, a stroll on the Central Wharf along the Buffalo River.
There are a number of really good restaurants all within walking distance of First Niagara Center. 716 Food and Sport is a must see at HarborCenter. Lagerhaus 95, Liberty Hound, Pearl Street Brewing Company, Buffalo Iron Works and Washington Square Lounge all good recommendations. Check out the Tim Hortons café and bake shop at HarborCenter. Inside is a veritable museum to the player Tim Horton with displays, Horton memorabilia, and a timeline showcasing the history of the old Aud. It's worth checking out. Helium Comedy Club offers up great national comedy acts. The Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino is nearby. There is plenty to see and do, and there is much, much more to come.
These are "suffering" fans. They have supported the team through thick and thin. During the 1970s people would camp out overnight for the chance to purchase precious Sabres game tickets. Even now, the team maintains a season ticket base of 16,000, leaving but 3000 tickets per game available for single game purchase. And despite the recent lack of success on the ice, the arena is full or just about full, night after night, as Sabres fans await the planned rebuilding of the team into a contender. One of the most popular t-shirts spotted around these parts? The slogan "One B4 I Die" adorned in either Bills or Sabres colors. If this community actually ever wins a world title in either of these two sports, the city will in all likelihood shut down from the weight of the jubilation.
First Niagara Center can be accessed by car via the Elm-Oak or Church St exits off of the I-190. There are parking ramps at the arena itself, at HarborCenter and at Coca Cola Field. Surface parking is available in ridiculous abundance throughout downtown. Parking generally runs anywhere from $5-$10 depending on location. Street meters are not monitored on evenings or weekends, so fans arriving early enough might snag a free spot. Metrorail runs from The University at Buffalo's south campus all the way to literally the front door of the arena, at the Special Events station. Riding the Metrorail is free on the downtown portion. A good strategy is to park free in the Chippewa entertainment district, enjoy dinner/drinks, then hop on at Fountain Plaza station for the short ride to the arena.
Sabres tickets are among the cheapest in the NHL. Fans can still secure lower level single game tickets without touching three figures. Upper level nosebleeds start at around $25. With the team's swoon, the secondary market offers a plethora of opportunities to score some real deals. Concession prices run about the mid range for a venue of this stature. Add in the relatively reasonable parking prices. It's always good to check the team web site, as they offer 4-pack specials and other discounted tickets on a regular basis to select games. And season ticket holders get even more of a bargain, with tickets priced about 40% off of face value, and a rebate of 6.5% in "Sabrebucks," a loaded gift card which can be redeemed at any retail installation in the arena or at HarborCenter.
Two stars for the team history - there are statues of the French Connection in the Alumni Plaza outside the arena. Another statue of the famed Tim Horton has been unveiled at Main and Scott. Plenty of displays throughout the building. No Stanley Cups (yet), but a tremendous sense of tradition and history which makes Buffalo one of the true hockey must sees.
One star for HarborCenter - owners Terry and Kim Pegula have built a destination venue which is one of a kind anywhere. The building is in continuous use, and teams and players and families and tournaments are coming to Buffalo from far and wide. The vibe and energy coming from Buffalo's newest digs is truly evident.
One star for Rick Jeanneret. Who, you ask? The famed voice of the Sabres has been calling play-by-play at the microphone with the team since 1971. He is Rodney Dangerfield's doppleganger, his voice unique, his famous calls are a celebrated part of Buffalo's hockey DNA. The man is slowing down, but is still at it. A true community treasure.
"Hockey Heaven" is a phrase coined by team President Ted Black when the Pegula era began in Buffalo in 2011. The failures of the team have weighed heavily on the fan base since that time, but Sabres fans still support the team in droves. The Canadians come to town often, many have season tickets of their own, and with their visits come the imprint of their culture - the beer, the poutine, the funny accents, their colorful plastic currency, giving the unique imprint of an American/Canadian hockey city that really isn't replicated anywhere, not even in the border city of Detroit. No wonder so many players make Buffalo their home after they retire.
If there's any city that deserves to end all their suffering and torture and claim hockey's ultimate prize, it's this one. There is such a thing as Hockey Gods. Let's hope the day will come when they will be smiling down on Hockey Heaven.
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.
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.
The First Niagara Center opened in downtown Buffalo in 1996 following the closure of the beloved old Memorial Auditorium across the street. The arena itself was meant to anchor the redevelopment of Buffalo’s windswept Canalside district, but getting shovels in the ground proved harder than expected, and for the first fifteen years of its life, First Niagara Center sat more or less alone among grain elevators and parking lots. All that is finally changing, though, as shovels are in the ground on the $123 million HarborCenter project across the street from the arena that will feature two NHL-sized ice sheets (which will serve as the Sabres’ new practice facility), a hotel, parking garage, and entertainment district.
First Niagara Center has always been a good place to watch a hockey game, but the new development should finally give options within walking distance for pre and post-game as well. Seeing the Sabres in 2013-14 means putting up with a bit of construction dust, but the end result will be spectacular when it’s finished.
I love this arena. Even though I miss the Aud of my childhood, having my adolescent and adult years in FNC, I've been spoiled in having one of the best arenas in the NHL just a mere 10 minute drive from home.
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