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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Pensacola Ice Flyers are members of the Southern Professional Hockey League. Their first year in existence was 2009, and in that short period of time, they have won three SPHL championships (2013, 2014, and 2016). Pensacola actually has a more than 20 year history of professional ice hockey as they were preceded by the Pensacola Ice Pilots of the ECHL.
Home ice for the Ice Flyers is the 10,000-seat Pensacola Bay Center. Built in 1985, the facility was recently named the number one arena in Florida (arenas sized 5,000-10,000 seats) and number 16 in the world in number of tickets sold. This is a result of the arena being booked more than 300 days of the year. In addition to the Ice Flyers, the Bay Center has hosted circuses, Mardi Gras celebrations, trade shows, political gatherings, high school and college sports tournaments, military ceremonies and holiday shows. Among the artists who have performed at the Center are Jimmy Buffett, Cher, Kenny Chesney, James Taylor, Rascal Flatts and Brad Paisley.
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".
Pensacola Bay Center has five identical concession areas spaced equidistantly from each other around the rink. Items sold at these stands include hot dogs ($3), hamburgers ($6), nachos ($3), pretzels ($5), popcorn ($4) and peanuts ($3). Drinks include a variety of Coca-Cola products ($4) and bottled water ($3) and beer (Bud products or Yuengling for $6).
There are also two specialty concession areas. Wholly Tacomoli offers chicken or beef tacos ($4), chili cheese nachos ($5), or Frito Pie ($7). Drinks at this stand include Corona, Tecate, and Landshark (all $6), along with margaritas ($7). In section 123, you will find a craft beer concession stand.
One drawback to the concession stands' location is that they are all located on an outer concourse, with no monitors available to view the action while you are standing in line.
Pensacola is home to the Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Blue Angels and the National Museum of Naval Aviation. This accounts for both the Ice Pilots and Ice Flyers hockey teams' monikers. The team's marketing department does a great job in using this theme throughout the facility and in its promotions. The Bay Center is known as "The Hangar" by the Ice Flyer fans, with the group seating area known as "the Flight Deck." The team's mascot is named Maverick (the nickname used by Tom Cruise's character in the movie Top Gun) a seabird with a distinctly military bearing.
The Ice Flyers hold a number of special promotions throughout the season. There is at least one Military Appreciation Night and one Veterans Appreciation Night each month, as Pensacola has a very large active and retired military population base. Another popular promotion is Mardi Gras Week, as Pensacola celebrates the event just like its Gulf Coast neighbors to the west.
The team's local theme and special promotions are cute and entertaining, but what really fills the Bay Center is the high quality of hockey the Ice Flyers play. With three league championships in the last five years, lots of military members in the area that grew up in the northern climates and a large population of "snowbirds" living in the community over the winter, the Pensacola Bay Center is used to seeing a full house and is a very intimidating place for visiting teams to play.
The Pensacola Bay Center is located in downtown Pensacola, which is only a few short blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. It is very conveniently located to some of Pensacola's best dining options as well as some excellent lodging at less than beachfront property prices. Within walking distance of the arena are McGuire's Irish Pub, Outback Steakhouse and the Rodizio Grill, and for breakfast or lunch, you can't go wrong with the Another Broken Egg Café. No visit to Pensacola would be complete without dining at Joe Patti's Seafood along the Gulf waterfront.
Hotels within a short walking distance of the Bay Center include the Pensacola Courtyard Downtown ($139/night), the Residence Inn Downtown ($150/night) or the Pensacola Grand ($135/night).
The Ice Flyers have a very loyal and knowledgeable fan base. A large percentage of their fans are transplants from northern climates where hockey is much more popular. The team has one of the larger season ticket bases in the SPHL and the team reciprocates their support with earlier admission times, special parking areas and a number of meet-the-player opportunities throughout the season.
The Ice Flyers are also building their base for the future by doing a great deal of outreach to the younger populations. It is not unusual to see several groups of youths from area churches, schools and athletic leagues at every Ice Flyer game. The after-game skates following day games are especially popular in building support, as it is rare for children (or adults for that matter) to get "ice time" in the state of Florida.
The product on the ice is top notch, and attendance in the stands is excellent. The one area where the Pensacola Bay Center has some weaknesses is access. This is to be expected of a building constructed in 1985, which also is subject to stringent building codes, due to its close proximity to the Gulf, where it is subject to hurricanes. Ironically, being the busiest arena of its size in the country has prevented it from receiving some needed upgrades.
The first issue of accessibility is parking -- there is simply not enough of it. The lot immediately outside the arena is reserved strictly for season ticket holders and persons with disabilities. Persons attending Ice Flyers games on anything less than a season ticket must park in an unlighted gravel parking lot under an expressway overpass that forces fans to cross two major streets. This lot provides no security during the game.
The exterior of the Pensacola Bay Center also gives you some idea of why it is also known as "The Hangar." It is a concrete bunker-like structure with no personality and very little signage. There are very limited entry points into the building, and persons with seats on the sides of the rink must navigate a number of ramps to access their gate into the arena. Again, some of these elements are due to hurricane-area building restrictions, but the building definitely could use some non-structural updating.
The last major issue as far as access within the Bay Center is the seats. While the team has a "flight" theme, this does not mean that you need to subject your fans to seats that are narrower and with less legroom than are found on any airlines. It is a shame that great hockey cannot be enjoyed, due to the uncomfortable nature of the seating.
Unfortunately, Escambia County is reluctant to make these upgrades, due to the Bay Center being in use on nearly a daily basis. Any renovation would close the arena for a significant period of time, and cause a large loss of income from rentals to the county. It would also be very difficult, if not impossible, to find a facility of this size elsewhere in the panhandle of Florida that has the refrigeration capabilities needed for an ice rink. This would leave the Ice Flyers with nowhere suitable to play their home games.
Ticket prices are determined by location around the rink. Along the glass tickets go for $29, center ice costs $20, corners are $18 and behind the goals are $15. Parking at the Pensacola Bay Center is only $5, and you can leave your car before or after the game and walk to some of downtown Pensacola's best restaurants and clubs. There are also a number of lodging choices nearby, which may even save you the parking charge. The concessions are reasonably priced, and you will see quality hockey played by the Ice Flyers. In a military and beachfront town, we feel the unique opportunity to see great ice hockey at very reasonable prices rates four stars.
On the weekends or when the Ice Flyers have an afternoon game, fans can take advantage of the Ice Zone, a very nominally priced open skate on the arena ice.
A visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum is a "must-see" while in the Pensacola area. You may even have the opportunity to watch the Blue Angels practice for one of their airshows, as the Naval Air Station is their home base.
Pensacola has very temperate weather conditions throughout the year. It is a great place for golf, fishing and water activities, even in the middle of winter.
Member Review by ryanbohannon on Feb 27, 2013
The Pensacola Bay Center (formerly the Pensacola Civic Center) is home to the SPHL's Pensacola Ice Flyers and has been hosting hockey since 1996. Situated just off Interstate 110, as well as just minutes away from the beaches, the Bay Center is easy to find and access. While Bay Center opened in 1985 and has been through several hurricanes, the building has withstood it all and shows very little age. In 2004, the Bay Center began replacing all of the seats, a project that concluded before the 2005 season. For hockey, the building can seat just over 8,000 fans when they open the upper bowl, but that usually only happens for playoff games. The capacity of the lower bowl is generally 5,000, but no matter where you sit, there isn't a bad seat in the building. With the building being in the south, one would almost think it was specifically built for hockey.
600 E Gregory St
Pensacola, FL 32602
721 E Gregory St
Pensacola, FL 32602
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700 E Chase St
Pensacola, FL 32602