Opened in the year 2001, the 9,852-seat Verizon Wireless Arena is located on the edge of downtown Manchester. The AHL affiliate of the LA Kings, the Manchester Monarchs, is the arena's main tenant. The University of New Hampshire men's hockey team also typically plays a couple of home games at "The Verizon" each season, including an annual contest with Dartmouth College.
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 arena has four permanent and several portable concession stands located around the perimeter of the main concourse. In general, the available fare was exactly what one would expect from this level of facility: cheeseburgers ($5.50), chicken sandwiches ($5), hot dogs ($4), sausages ($5.50), chicken tenders ($7, w/ fries), pizza, nachos ($6.75), fries ($4), popcorn ($4.25), pretzels ($4), peanuts ($4), candy ($3.25), along with a few other choices. A chicken Caesar salad ($6.50) appeared to be the lone "healthy" food item on the menu, while the most exotic option to be found was a hand-carved sandwich of some sort (roast beef, most likely).
Beer selection was decent. At $6 (domestic) or $7 (import) for what appeared to be a 16 oz. draft and $6.50 for a 16 oz. bottle, prices were slightly higher than one would expect from a local bar but definitely more reasonable than an NHL facility. Wine and "malternatives" were also available for $6.50 and $6.75, respectively, while at least one stand offered margaritas for $7.50.
As I drove to The Verizon for a 3pm puck drop while listening to the Patriots game on the radio, it occurred to me that attendance, and hence the atmosphere, would at least somewhat be diminished by the game having to compete for fans with an NFL Sunday afternoon. It turned out I was correct, so keep in mind that it would basically be impossible to give anything other than a nominal score at best for atmosphere when seemingly 6,500 out of 10,000 seats were empty. This was disappointing, as I was under the impression that the team has drawn well for most of its existence.
With that having been established, I was impressed but not wowed by the building itself. There was not much to distinguish it physically from the many similar facilities that have popped up across the country in the last decade or so outside of a fairly sleek exterior. Inside the actual seating bowl, the layout and amenities gave it the vibe of a 2/3-sized NHL-quality (if somewhat generic) venue that simultaneously felt smaller than the official capacity. Seating was on two distinct tiers and featured comfortably wide seats with cup holders. There were more private suites than one might expect for a venue this size (approximately thirty) that basically run the entire length of the ice, stacked over two levels. Two lower-level sections at center ice were designated as club seating and featured additional perks such as in-seat waiter service and access to a private bar.
At the same time, there could be no mistaking the fact that this was a minor league venue. There were frequent exhortations to "get loud" and a boisterous PA announcer who became particularly excited when announcing Monarchs power plays. The usual chintzy promotions often took place during stoppages in play ("if the Monarchs score in the next three minutes, everybody wins a free oil change!"). Intermission activities included a holiday promotion, the "Teddy Bear Toss", where spectators threw stuffed animals intended for underprivileged children onto the ice, a traditional shoot-the-puck-into-the-net contest, a radio-controlled blimp dropping prizes from the air, and "Chuck-A-Puck", where spectators could buy foam pucks and then attempt to throw them onto targets placed on the ice in order to win prices.
The adequate four-sided scoreboard gave basic information in addition to what was shown on the smallish video boards. Music during stoppages was a combination of standard arena rock and organ music that, while likely recorded, nevertheless provided a nice "hockey" touch.
The Verizon is situated at the southern end of downtown Manchester on Elm Street (US-3), which runs through the heart of the commercial district. While it's not the most exciting strip in the world, it's nothing to complain about either. A couple of bars and restaurants can be found within a block or so of the arena itself. Downtown proper begins a short two or three blocks north and offers a reasonably wide variety of food and beverage options within a 10-15 minute walk. Most everything can be found either on Elm Street itself or immediately adjacent on a side street. A selection of what's available includes: Portland Pie Co. (pizza), JW Hill's Sports Bar and Grill (pub grub), Strange Brew Tavern (pub grub), Piccola (Italian), Margaritas (Tex-Mex), Athens (Greek) and Peking Garden (Chinese). Higher-end options include XO on Elm and the Hanover Street Chophouse.
Those who actually showed up were ultimately pretty good hockey fans who kept up with the game well. The vast majority seemed to be wearing jerseys or some other form of team apparel, almost to a surprising degree. It took a while for the crowd to warm up, which can be attributed both to numbers and a slow start by the home team.
Given its size, the crowd was attentive and decently loud but there was not a lot of response except when induced or something noteworthy occurred. The main exception to this was the sporadic chants started by a large group of children in the upper level behind one of the goals that tended to catch on. In other words, there was not much in the way of spontaneity.
That said, the arena filled in a little bit more over course of the first period and everyone in attendance definitely got more into the game as it went on. By way of example, while the crowd reaction to the first away goal early in the first period was muted, the second was resoundingly booed, and the first home goal was equally applauded. Things definitely perked up after good hits and scoring chances, and attention remained heightened afterward. Fans really woke up for the third period, especially after the Monarchs tied it up. The "sieve" taunts directed at the opposing goalie after the Monarchs' third goal clearly reflected that these folks knew their hockey. When the game was won in the shootout by the home team, the place lit up about as much as it possibly could have.
Driving is likely to be the only transportation option for most fans. From points north, the arena is less than one mile from the Granite St. exit off of I-293. From points south, drivers can either take the same Granite St. exit from the other direction, or have the option of a more direct route that is an adequately-marked 5 miles from the S. Willow St. (NH-28) exit off of NH-101/I-293.
Despite being located on the edge of Manchester's downtown core, parking around the arena is plentiful. Many metered parking spaces are available on the surrounding streets that cost a mere $1 for an entire event. There is also ample lot parking (including accessible) immediately adjacent to the building up to a short walk away, all of which seems to charge a flat $10.
The number of restrooms appeared to be sufficient for a venue of this size, although I did find myself wondering whether this would be the case when there is a full house. Most seemed to be located on the corners of the main concourse, including what appeared to be one family restroom on either side. The actual facilities were clean although smaller than I would have expected. Regardless, lines were barely noticeable even during intermissions.
The Monarchs are more or less in the middle of the pack relative to other AHL teams in the Northeast when it comes to ticket prices. Upper-level tickets (Adult/65+/12 & under) are $17/$15/$12, while lower-level seating ranges up to $29 depending on location.
Bottom line: Nothing at The Verizon, including concessions and parking, was appreciably more expensive than one would expect from an arena this size. Considering the overall quality of the arena itself (sight lines, comfort, etc.) and level of talent on the ice, those taking in a game here are likely to get their money's worth.
A small but impressively stocked team merchandise store is conveniently located in entry foyer next to one of the staircases that lead up to the main concourse.
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