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Official Review by Drew van der Poel, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Opened in 1990, the Times Union Center has become the premier arena in New York's capital district. Originally known as the Knickerbocker Arena, then the Pepsi Arena, before the naming rights were sold to the Times Union, a capital-district newspaper, and it became known as the Times Union Center on January 1st, 2007. The TU Center has hosted AHL hockey every season since 1993, when the Capital District Islanders, who played in RPI's Houston Field House, became the Albany River Rats (an affiliate of the New Jersey Devils). The River Rats later became Carolina's AHL affiliate, and after a few seasons they left for Charlotte. The Devils brought their farm team back as the Albany Devils in 2010, and the A-Devils have played there ever since. The TU Center also hosts Siena basketball, and various concerts and other events.
The Times Union Center is really a professional style arena, situated right in the heart of downtown Albany. The arena holds upwards of 14,000 fans, but the entire upper level is normally curtained off, as the A-Devils average around 4,000 fans a game. Since the River Rats' great success in the mid 90's, including a Calder Cup in 1995, Albany has struggled to see a quality product on the ice, only seeing the playoffs 3 times since 2000. Even though the A-Devils have yet to make the playoffs in their tenure at the TU Center, they still make for a good gameday experience for fans.
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 is exactly what you would expect from an arena. They don't have any real specialty items, but the concourse is absolutely filled with vendors selling anything that you could hope to find at a sporting event. The quality of the food is about what one would expect at a minor league professional sporting event, and the prices are a little expensive, but again, on par with comparable franchises. Lines are generally not bad, as there are so many options and the crowds usually aren't that big.
There are plenty of beer vendors, and on Friday night games you can get $2 drafts from 6-7 pm, a great deal. They also have a fair number of Dollar Dawg Nights, where hot dogs and sodas are $1 each.
It appeared that food from outside the stadium could be brought in, as the couple sitting next to me was eating Subway. Papa John's is available inside the arena.
To get into the arena you go up an outdoor escalator, as the concourse is located above the ticket office, which is on the ground. The concourse is beyond wide enough, and it is used to access both upper and lower levels of seating. All seats are individual with backs and cup holders, a very nice touch. There are no poor sightlines, but obviously in the lower bowl, closer to center ice allows you to see better. Given this, I have sat up top on two occasions, once on the blue line and the other time in the corner. I was pleased with both seats. There is a moat-like structure behind the benches, separating the crowd by about 8 feet from the players. This is a good thing as it allows you to have better sightlines. Behind one goal is the season ticket holder VIP area, which is an open space with tables to sit at. At the other end of the ice, the seats go all the way up to the glass. In order to see the center ice logo correctly, one should sit facing the benches. Both teams enter from behind their benches, and fans are able to go down to the glass for warm-ups, or to the tunnel in hopes of getting a hi-five from their favorite player. Box seats are at the back of the lower level, and they are usually pretty well filled up for Devils games.
A nice feature of the TU Center is the scoreboard, which has four sides displaying video and the time/score/shots on goal/penalties, and another circular ribbon below the scoreboard. They run promotions and cues to the crowd on the scoreboard, as you would see at most sporting events.
The mascot is the chubby, loveable Devil Dawg. In an age when mascots are starting to slim down, Devil Dawg keeps his pounds on. He is a hit with kids and grown folk alike. Popular and arena music is played throughout the game, and the Devils give the fan (via twitter) the option of picking what song they come out to at the start of the 3rd period. The PA system and PA announcer are very good.
On the concourse there is a section for the kids, as they can shoot a puck on a goal and do various hockey/Devils activities.
Lastly, the Devils, like all good minor league teams should, run all sorts of promotions to get fans in the seats. Half a dozen different groups are visiting on a given night.
Located right on the main strip in downtown Albany, there are plenty of bars to go for a pre or post game drink or a bite to eat. The Hudson River is a five minute walk from the arena, as the Corning Preserve provides a nice place to hang out before the game. The New York State Museum is also a short walk away, as is the Crowne Plaza Hotel if you're looking for a place to stay.
The Egg, Empire State Plaza, and all sorts of state buildings are just up the hill. Jillian's is a popular sports bar to go to before the game, as it is located just north on Pearl Street. I wouldn't venture too far from the above mentioned locations however, as some areas near downtown Albany can be a little seedy.
Perhaps the most interesting debate in Albany is one of their fans. On most nights the Devils see between 3,000 and 4,000 fans. This makes the arena seem practically empty, as it's only a quarter full. Given this, the fans that show up are passionate about their hockey and they are truly great fans. They dog the refs when they don't agree with a call, support their team and applaud a great save by their goalie or a clear on a powerplay. They know their players and they enjoy following them in to the NHL.
That being said, on the day of this particular review, the Devils drew over 10,000 fans, a franchise record and the most Albany has seen since 1999. Due to a Saturday afternoon game in the middle of winter against their closest rival, Adirondack, and a ton of ticket promotions going on, the Devils fans packed the house. Even with the large number of fans, there wasn't that buzzing noise that you like to hear at sporting events. Rather, there were just pops from the crowd following a goal or a big hit. So you lose some of that passion, as it is drowned out by the large numbers of the crowd.
There seemed to be no problems between Devils and Phantoms fans, and other than one good-natured incident with some grumpy WBS Penguin fans. I have never seen the Devils fans get in to it with opposing supporters. The A-Devils share a goal horn with their NHL parent club, and a good portion of the crowd likes to chant the popular "hey! you suck!" and point at the opposing goalie. Pretty funny.
The TU Center is just minutes from Exit 23 on the NYS Thruway. There are plenty of parking options, as the TU Center has a garage adjacent to it, and there is another large parking lot east of South Pearl Street. Following signs will get you there without a problem. There is also street parking available, especially if you go up the hill. Street parking is free at night and on weekends, while other options will run you about $5-$6.
The CDTA bus service runs a number of routes from all over the area that put you within short walking distance of the TU Center. For example, the 114 comes from Crossgates Mall, down Madison Avenue, and drops you off a block away from the TU. The S Pearl Station on State Street also services a number of routes that is just a short walk from the arena. The Albany Greyhound Bus Station is also right near the TU, servicing those from out of town. The Albany Amtrak is across the river, but again there is CDTA accessible to and from the TU.
There are very large restrooms downstairs at each corner of the arena, and I have never seen a line here. I have also never waited in line to get in to the arena.
There is handicap seating at the top of the lower sections.
Another great thing the Devils do is offer tons of great deals on tickets. You can check their website for more information, but they offer all sorts of promotions that end up being close to 10 bucks a ticket. Normal, flat rates are a little pricey, but there are also deals for veterans, college students and various union members.
The food and parking is fairly priced. If you play your cards right, you can end up feeding a family of four, parking, and sitting in the lower bowl for less than $60, and see the highest level of puck the minor leagues have to offer. A great deal.
I'll award one point because the Devils generally give out full, detailed programs for free to all fans. (Note: They did not do that for the 10,000+ fan game, but there was a bobblehead instead.)
One point for honoring the history of the River Rats, as all of their banners still hang at one end of the arena.
Lastly one point because I feel the fans and neighborhood each deserve an extra half point higher than I gave them.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on Oct 16, 2013
Attended a weekday afternoon game which did not help attendance, with perhaps 1,000 fans in the seats. Hard to accurately rate the atmosphere, as the stadium is simply too big for such a small crowd. Food choices were overpriced and not appetizing. The area around the venue seems very nice and the State Capitol is close by and worth checking out before the game. Get the $16 cheap tickets and sit where you want.
Member Review by puckmanri on Jan 29, 2015
I remember back in the day this arena was nicknamed "the Mausoleum" due to the lack of any kind of atmosphere. Things haven't changed much, and it's a shame. The Devils still struggle to attract fans. They would be better served by a smaller arena. Otherwise, the Times Union Center is a fine facility. It's a shame more people don't come out to see it.