WesBanco Arena debuted in 1977 as the Wheeling Civic Center at a cost of $7 million, but did not host minor league hockey until 15-years later in 1992. The 5,046 capacity venue is quite intimate and is home to the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. The Nailers, originally the Thunderbirds, are the longest continuous franchise in the league.
The team changed their name to the Nailers in 1996 to pay homage to the city’s nickname of the Nail City. Wheeling was one of the largest manufacturers of cut nails during the late 19th century. The name and logo are one of the more attractive designs in the league and being the a farm club to the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL, the franchise should be assured of many more seasons in the Nail City.
Currently, the arena is undergoing three phases of renovations that included the installation of an $850,000 scoreboard, a new sound system, and zamboni for the 2014-15 season. The next phase of renovations will take place during the summer of 2015. The original arena seats are worn out and plastic seats will be replaced with cushioned seats with cup holders. The final phase of the stadium’s renovations will take place by summer 2016 that will drop the main lobby down to the floor level and modernize the exterior of the arena’s entrance. The renovations are intended to change the look and comfort of the game day experience for the 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".
There is not a wide range of food at the game, but your basics are covered and at fairly reasonable prices. DiCarlo's Pizza, a local institution, is made on the premise and sold by the squared slice for $3. It is among the best food options in the arena and best eaten fresh from the oven. The rest of the cuisine are your basics including hot dogs ($3.50), hamburgers ($5), nachos ($4), Italian sausage ($5),and hoagies ($6.50).
Pepsi products are $3.50 and all draft beers are a bargain at $5 (Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Light, and Yuengling). There is also a rum flavored coffee called a highlander that is perfect for any cold, winter night. The best part is that the food is served up hot, fresh, fast, and with a friendly smile.
WesBanco Arena might not be one the classic hockey barns in North America, but it definitely has a lot of character. It is an old-fashioned minor league experience complete with 50/50 raffle tickets, merchandise sold on long wooden tables, narrow concourses, league standings on the marquee, and plenty of local businesses offering you a free writing utensil.
It does not have that synthetic feel like a few other newer ECHL arenas, but does incorporate a mish mash of aesthetics that would rival a college dorm room or trophy room - courtesy of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Hall of Fame.
The main lobby is where the majority of the action takes place: concession stands, souvenir shop, and group and ticket information booths. The fans line up to purchase chuck-a-puck tickets, pose for pictures in front of the many murals and photos on the wall, and purchase concession and food items. It is a busy and congested area, and very easy to bump into a friend for a conversation. Also, everywhere you look there is a trophy case, large banner, or piece of paraphernalia from the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Hall of Fame.
There are quite a few legends including hall of famers Joe Niekro, Bob Havlicek, Bill Mazeroski, Lou Groza, and Super Bowl MVP Chuck Howley. However, the amount of artifacts are overwhelming and they somewhat trivialize the Nailers' own history inside the building. There is a section dedicated to the Thunderbirds/Nailers history, but it is dwarfed in comparison to the multiple high school football helmets, newspaper clippings, signed photos, programs, and other paraphernalia that has been accumulated over the past century and squeezed into WesBanco Arena. There should be an area dedicated to the area's sports history, but not at the expense of the hockey history that has taken place since 1992.
Then there are the large rainbow murals that decorate the walls on the main concourse that look as if they debuted with the arena in 1977. The murals ooze with disco era novelties such as 8-track tapes, Pong, and pet rocks. Fortunately, it is a look that is unique to the arena and one that may stay put with upcoming renovations.
The entrance to the seating area is a little bit unusual as patrons walk about a small staircase and then cross over the main concourse to the entrance of the rink. Once inside, access is relatively easy to navigate through the mostly obstructed view of the ice and seats. There is not a bad seat in the house and even your highest level seating does not feel like you hiked up a mountain. There have been a few recent additions to enhance the fan experience that include two sky suites at two of the corners of the seating concourse, a beer garden, and drink station at the lower level.
Downtown Wheeling is in transition, but on game nights there are plenty of fans dressing in jerseys and caps making their way to the game. The one hot spot is DiCarlo's Pizza which has been a staple in the city since 1949. It is a short three minute walk from the WesBanco Arena and it is definitely worth stopping by before the game. Their signature pizza is square shaped, similar to Sicilian and Northeastern Pennsylvania style, and topped with cold mozzarella cheese, which slowly melts on the crust, and pepperoni.
The city's only craft brewery, Wheeling Brewing Company, is a short five minute drive from the arena in Centre Market. Try the Panhandle Pale Ale, it is sweet and divine.
Ye Olde Alpha offers great food in a rustic setting and is a quick 10 minute drive from the arena. Primanti Brothers have made their way south from Pittsburgh, offering their famous sandwiches topped with french fries, tomatoes, and slaw. It is a quick 15 minute drive from the arena in Triadelphia. Coleman's Fish Market, also located in Centre Market, is another local legend that offers a wide variety of seafood.
When the game is packed and the Nailers are winning, the place can become deafening. The fans in attendance are a mix of true grit hockey faithful and the casual fan enjoying a night out with friends. The fans ignite proudly for fights, goals, and the occasional chorus of "Let's Go Nailers" that hypnotically vibrates throughout the arena. They are also pretty darn friendly and helpful with any questions to a visitor.
WesBanco Arena is located in the heart of downtown a few miles south of I-70 and adjacent to the scenic Ohio River. Various parking lots dot your way as you arrive closer to the venue and will cost you between $5-$10. However, there may be a few free spaces on the streets if you arrive early to the game.
Inside the arena, the concourse is somewhat small, but easy to navigate once you get used to the entrance doors to the ice. The best way to get around the arena is inside the seating area, where the arena wraps around without major obstructions.
Leaving the stadium could become somewhat cumbersome, but traffic steadily moves smoothly throughout the downtown streets.
Tickets for a Nailers game are a steal. They range in price from $10.50-$18.50 for home games. Kids and student ticket prices are only $8. These price points are an extreme bargain in comparison to some of the other franchises in the ECHL. Playing in an older facility does have its advantages.
One extra point for the Nailers staff. They are friendly and hospitable.
Another extra point for the disco-esque rainbow murals that appear on the concourse, a definite touch of funkiness to the arena.
One final point for the inexpensive ticket prices.
I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere and energy during the game. I would scale back the numerous sports theme posters and trophies that dominate the arena and make sure that the Nailers history is proudly displayed. Upcoming renovations may alter the interior of the building, and that will be fine. The country needs more small time hockey venues like WesBanco Arena, and we will be better for it in many ways.
WesBanco Arena is the home of the Wheeling Nailers, a member of the ECHL. The arena was opened in 1976 and seats around 5,000. It was a fun fan experience but don't expect the luxuries that you see in the more modern arenas.
Wheeling is a small town in northern West Virginia with not even 30,000 residents. Built in 1976 WesBanco Arena is one of the premier facilities in the state of West Virginia. WesBanco Arena (formerly the Wheeling Civic Center) is the main arena for current tenant Wheeling Nailers and previously several minor league indoor football teams.
Food & Beverage
WesBanco Arena doesn't feature anything fancy. The concession stands basically have would anyone would expect coming to a minor league hockey game. One thing that diffidently brings it up to a 3 is that the pizza is from a nearby restaurant called Dicarlos which is very popular in the Wheeling Metro Area.
WesBanco Arena boasts the loudest goal horn in North American professional hockey. Fans blow vuvuzelas very loudly and it excites the crowd. Nailers fans have a chant that boosts excitement after every Wheeling goal: He shoots, he scores, and goalie you suck. The Subway Chuck a Puck contest held in the second intermission raises the fun when spectators get to throw pucks on the ice in hopes of getting the bulls eye. If you completely cover the quarter in the middle you walk out with $1,000 cold hard cash. If not, who ever is closest wins a prize. Over the summer of 2011 new lights were installed and they light the event better than anywhere else I have seen. The PA announcer also betters the atmosphere considering he is professional grade, not just good enough for minor league sports.
The arena is located in downtown. Although downtown Wheeling doesn't seem to be thriving it still has many small businesses, many you can not find outside of Wheeling. Due to the location of downtown you can get to just about any where else in the city in under 15 minutes.
Wheeling fans generally knowledgeable about the game. Most know the finer points of hockey such as slashing, hooking, icing, etc. The fans are very passionate and when the refs make a bad call, they can hear it. Fans have certainly gotten more into the game considering the Nailers' good finish in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Downtown is close to all areas of the city and is about 1 mile from Ohio and 15 miles from Pennsylvania. You can get from your seat to the interstate in about ten minutes depending on where you park. Although there are a few stairs in the concourse anyone who has trouble with them or is physically impaired there is an elevator to the seating level.
Return on Investment
For $14 its pretty tough to beat. Even better is that for kids seat anywhere it is just $6. When the ECHL says they have provided affordable family entertainment for over 20 years, Wheeling is a prime example.
Frosty Fridays with $1 beers every Friday home game is a nice feature for those fan 21 and older. Also in the main concourse there are plaques of famous Wheeling natives and local sports stars.
Wheeling almost waved goodbye to its hometown Nailers at the end of the 2012 season. The previous owners put the team up for sale, and while the outlook was bleak for a while; it was the local community that came through. The fans showed up regularly and a combination of local groups got together to make sure the Nailers stayed exactly where they should be. The local community has literally and figuratively taken ownership of this team and it shows through the local flavor throughout the arena.
1400 Main St
Wheeling, WV 26003
1311 Main St
Wheeling, WV 26003
2247 Market St
Wheeling, WV 26003
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