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Of all the regions that the NHL expanded to as a part of the “Southern Strategy” in the 1990’s, perhaps none was an unlikelier fit than the Raleigh-Durham area. On the surface, the NHL’s plan to expand across the South in hopes of attracting a broader national footprint made sense, and cities from Dallas to Nashville eventually came around to the winter game, but Raleigh-Durham was always going to be a tough sell when the Hartford Whalers first announced their move to the area in 1997.
Raleigh-Durham has always been a college basketball hotbed first and foremost, with perennial powerhouses Duke and UNC only a short distance from each other in Durham and Chapel Hill, and the NC State Wolfpack in Raleigh. Adding to hockey’s uphill battle to establish itself was the fact that the area had no NHL-sized arena in 1997, and so for the first two years of their existence, the Hurricanes were forced to play more than an hour’s drive to the west at the Greensboro Coliseum. Attendance started out low and got lower, and it seemed obvious to most observers that the team’s next move was just over the horizon.
And yet the Hurricanes persevered, and a beautiful new arena was built in 1999 off the highway connecting Raleigh and Durham, and these days the team has a loyal and passionate fanbase like most of the rest of the league, and a Stanley Cup banner hanging in the rafters. The Hurricanes have carved out their niche in the heartland of college basketball, and the team today is a vital part of the sporting landscape in the Research Triangle area.
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".
Carolina Pit Barbecue, slow-cooked and doused in vinegar-based sauce, is the big draw on the menu, and it might just be one of the best local arena meals you can have in the NHL. But after that? There's not much that stands out. PNC Arena's concessions have the usual arena food you can get at any sporting event in North America, and the price, selection and food quality are all pretty much middle of the road. Apart from the 'cue, nothing really stands out for being particularly good or bad.
It's fortunate that the NC State Wolfpack is also a red team, because the color is everywhere. Arenas that share tenants often are forced to settle for neutral color schemes, but when both main tenants at PNC Arena wear red and white, every available surface is painted in one or the other. The arena feels like good money went into its construction as well, with white marble floors in the concourses (even in the upper deck) and red accents everywhere.
Banners hang everywhere in the rafters, with the Wolfpack's forming a ring around the seating area and the Hurricanes' in the middle over the ice surface. The team has tried to create both a traditional atmosphere (live organ music) and a modern one (cheerleaders), but the overall effect is kind of bipolar, where there's not enough tradition to be traditional, but too much to be a modern overwhelming blast-your-face-off arena experience.
Within walking distance of the arena, there is absolutely nothing of note. Building PNC Arena in the suburbs made perfect sense for the area, which has the population of one large city spread out over a sprawling range of 40 miles from one end to the other. Building the arena in downtown Raleigh would have limited attendance from people in Durham and Chapel Hill, and vice versa. But the end result is an arena surrounded by parking lots, with no bars, restaurants, shopping, or indeed anything else walking distance.
Raleigh-Durham is often mentioned on lists of "best places to live in the USA", and with good reason, because it's clean, friendly, and with a reasonable cost-of-living. Downtown Chapel Hill in particular is packed with bars and restaurants and bookshops and the other accoutrements of college life.
Consider taking the 12-15 minute drive to downtown Raleigh. There are some really terrific restaurants. One of the best BBQ joints in the state of North Carolina can be found here, Clyde Cooper's BBQ. If you want to get a taste of the local flavors and you are a carnivore, then this is the place for you.
Another great idea would be to visit Beasley's Chick & Honey. They serve really delicious southern-inspired and inventive cuisine, and have local beers on tap as well. Try the classic chicken and biscuits, or have one of their bar snacks. Whatever you go with, you'll enjoy this downtown location.
The game I went to unfortunately fulfilled many northerners' mental image of a game in Carolina, as the paid attendance was only about 60% of capacity. But the fans that were there were loud, knowledgeable, and almost universally decked out in red and white. Moreover, the fans have put the acres of parking lot space surrounding the PNC Arena to good use, as the 'Canes have easily the finest tailgating scene in the NHL. Barbecue smells, country music blaring from pickup truck speakers, and games of beanbag toss might sound like a living stereotype, and perhaps they are, but so what? Everybody is having fun, and that's all that matters.
Getting in and out is incredibly easy. The local police sets up roadblocks before and after each game to funnel traffic in and out, and in spite of the massive size of the parking lot, it clears in an organized hurry. The arena sits right beside the interstate and access is very easy. The Hurricanes also run a free bus service from downtown Raleigh, picking up at several local restaurants.
Getting around inside the arena is just as easy. The concourses are wide, the access is easy, and the building is laid out simply. Bathrooms are plentiful.
Tickets are more expensive than you'd think, though there are constantly promotions being run throughout the year for students, military, and so on. The high prices may have something to do with the low attendance.
Owing to incredibly poor design, there are seats in every section of the upper deck near the front that have views that are obstructed to the point you'd be better off watching on a television in the concourse. If the ticket says limited or obstructed view, avoid these seats at all costs!
In spite of the occasionally negative tone of the review above, a Hurricanes game is a great time. The building feels smaller than most in the modern NHL, and views even from halfway up the upper deck are good. The arena feels luxurious, and there is a genuine Southern friendliness in place that can't help but warm the heart on a 75-degree November evening. In terms of atmosphere, amenities, and all the other stuff that you can rank on a report card, PNC Arena is middle-of-the-pack at best. But there are other forces at work here, and the best compliment I can pay to PNC Arena is that I'd be delighted to return any time there's a hockey game on.
On the surface, Raleigh is the unlikeliest hockey town in America.
Sure, the NHL's odd emphasis on American expansion has sent franchises to the southernmost point of sunny Florida and into the arid Arizonan desert, but at least Miami and Phoenix are "hip." The transition from roller blades to roller hockey to ice hockey is only a bit of a stretch.
But planting the puck among barbeques, tractor pulls, and decades of baseball, basketball, and football tradition in the hidebound heart of the muggy South? Now that's a big ol' leap of faith.
Against those odds, the Carolina Hurricanes have carved out a niche in North Carolina as one of the state's most unexpected sporting successes. Bringing a championship home in 2006 helped, but the game day experience at the RBC Center shines for more reasons than the lingering luster of Lord Stanley's Cup.
Welcome to the RBC Center, home of the Carolina Hurricanes, North Carolina State Wolfpack, and 18,680 other screaming fans. Located just 10 minutes north of downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, the arena is well into its 11th season but still feels as new as ever. It's also been home to some incredible accomplishments over the years, including, most famously, the Hurricanes Stanley Cup title in June 2006.
The RBC Center still looks and seems like one of the newest arenas in the NHL. It's already housed hundreds of basketball and hockey games, concerts, rodeos, comedians, and even the NHL draft in the decade since its original opening in October 1999, but still shows no sign of wear and tear.
As they say, "every seat in the arena is the best seat in the arena", and that saying definitely holds true as soon as you enter the building. From the large glass windows lining much of the front, to the red-carpet second level, to the bathrooms that look more like they belong in a fancy New York City hotel, and even to the massive selection of concessions (ranging from Hardees to a built-in restaurant), the RBC Center is about as elegant as you can find for any sporting event, anywhere.
Over the years, Raleigh, normally thought of as a fast growing city known for its three nearby universities, has also become perhaps the largest hockey fanbase anywhere in the southern United States. After the franchise announced its relocation from Hartford, Connecticut in 1996, Raleigh began to prepare for their first professional sports team ever. After the RBC Center (originally named the ESA Arena) was finished in 1999 and the team stopped playing their games in nearby Greensboro, the city residents began warming up to hockey, and they've just gotten more and more dedicated with every passing season.
My visit involved quite an interesting and unusual setting, as although Raleigh is not known for having cold winters, the night before the game had brought seven inches of snow, two more inches of ice sealing in the snow, and had completely "paralyzed the town", as the visiting Hawks announcer quoted on the television broadcast. Despite fewer than 7,000 fans showing up for the game, and nearly a third of them seemingly Blackhawks fans, the game was still a great contest. A Carolina 4-2 victory ended up sending the â??Canes faithful into a frenzy and backing up traffic for the entire parking lot, but it was definitely an enjoyable game to attend and it most certainly wouldn't have been the same without the magic and glamour of the RBC Center.
3121 Edwards Mill Road
Raleigh, NC 27612
237 S Wilmington St
Raleigh, NC 27601
109 E Davie St
Raleigh, NC 27601
214 E Martin St
Raleigh, NC 27601
3908 Arrow Dr
Raleigh, NC 27612
1200 Hurricane Alley Way
Raleigh, NC 27607