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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.
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 best thing that can ever be said about any sporting venue's food selection is that it reflects local taste. Buffalo's local cuisine is spectacular, and the First Niagara Center features delicacies like chicken wings, beef on weck (roast beef au jus on a kummelweck roll), Perry's ice cream, and fried bologna sandwiches. The best food option, though, for atmosphere as much as anything else, is the Pour Man's Aud Club behind section 111. When the Aud was demolished, the old anachronistic alpine bar was saved and has been moved lock, stock and barrel to the new arena. Exposed wainscoting and dark wood, seats from the old arena, and a "1995-96 league leaders" info board are well worth checking out.
When the First Niagara Center opened in 1996, it seemed in many ways as though the Sabres were trying to turn their back on their history, with the Aud, the crossed-Sabres logo, and the blue and gold all abandoned. The late-90's Sabres were also one of the league's worst offenders in the scourge of too-loud, interrupting constant promotions that took all the flow and energy out of the crowd. It took well over a decade, but the Sabres have finally embraced their history, and even in comparison to a couple of years ago, the arena is now doused liberally in blue and gold paint and team logos.
The Sabres' history is now on display everywhere and the First Niagara Center finally feels like it belongs to Buffalo and to the Sabres. One of the easiest ways to criticize the arena for the first decade of its life was that it felt like it could have belonged to any NHL team in any market, but that is finally now not the case. First Niagara Center is Buffalo and is the Sabres. Having brought the old organ over helps a great deal as well, and the team has learned how to use their TV timeouts properly and to manage the crowd noise while still fitting in the necessary advertising.
Buffalo is one of my favorite American cities, so it is hard for me to criticize, but, well, within walking distance of the arena is an elevated expressway, grain elevators, a massive construction site, and parking lots. There are a few restaurants just to the east in the cobblestone district that always get packed on game nights, but for the most part, de nada. The real Buffalo, with some of the best pubs and local restaurants anywhere you'll look, is a short (and free) light rail journey away, up to the Fountain Plaza stop and then west into the Delaware-Elmwood Strip. Surrounding the arena, though, is nothing much of note for the visitor. One hopes this grade will go up substantially when HarborCenter opens in the fall of 2014.
Sabres fans have always been among the best in the NHL. The team's border location means that there's often a sizeable component of Canadians in the crowd, and so the atmosphere tends to combine the knowledge of the average Canadian fan with the raucous passion of the Americans. Sabres games tend to be loud affairs and the locals have always supported the team with high attendance even when times are tougher. During playoff runs, local bars and restaurants tend to be packed with fans and tickets can be hard to get. Sabres-Leafs tickets can be the hardest to get in the regular season, with locals and Torontonians trading barbs and cheers back and forth throughout the game.
I-190 runs right by the arena, and there's a plethora of surface parking and garages in the immediate area. Buffalo's light rail system is free within the downtown core as well, and it is not difficult at all to find a free parking spot within the core (meters are not monitored after 5 PM or on weekends), get on the train, and be delivered to the arena's front door without spending a dime.
With over 15,000 season ticket holders and the Sabres marketing heavily within the Niagara region and Hamilton as well as Rochester to the east, sellouts are common. Games are classified as platinum, gold, silver, bronze or value depending on demand for the opponent, night of week, etc. Toronto games are always platinum, to make the out-of-towners feel at home paying MLSE prices!
If you're used to paying southern US prices, Sabres tickets can be a bit of a shock, but of the three teams equidistant from my home in London, Ontario (Maple Leafs, Red Wings), the Sabres are by far the cheapest. In such a hockey-mad environment; the Sabres offer the best return on investment of any of the nearby teams.
The Sabres have finally re-embraced their history under the leadership of billionaire owner Terry Pegula, and the HarborCenter development should finally make the First Niagara Center into the lynchpin of a revitalized market. Buffalo's reputation isn't exciting or flashy, but as the locals know, the city is full of hidden gems, walkable neighborhoods, top notch pubs and restaurants, and a passion for the local sports teams that is virtually unmatched by any other American city. A Sabres game is what the NHL experience at its best can be - a loud, knowledgeable sellout crowd cheering on the local team in an environment full of color and history and traditional organ music. For what it's worth, I'd always choose to go see the Sabres over the two better-known teams near me - the arena is nicer, tickets are cheaper, and the atmosphere is better.
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.
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