BB&T Center – Florida Panthers
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
BB&T Center 1 Panther Pkwy Sunrise, FL 33323
Year Opened: 1998
Florida Hockey as Good as Ever
During recent seasons, the Florida Panthers were known in the news for being the team that had a franchise-low for attendance. In addition, they experienced the smallest season-opener crowd in franchise history. The few fans that showed up could carry on conversations in the upper deck that could clearly be heard in the lower bowl. However, an injection of young talent and a streamlined stadium experience has led to a growing crowd and an even better game day atmosphere. A new logo and a new feel make it a different experience than that of the past.
BB&T Center is located in Sunrise, Florida, more than 30 miles north of downtown Miami. The arena has been the home of the Panthers since it opened in 1998, and has a capacity 19,250 when aligned for hockey.
Food & Beverage 4
As with any sports arena, food and drinks include the standards of burgers, fries, hot dogs, and chicken fingers. However, the 2016 season saw a complete renovation of the food offerings at BB&T Center, adding specialty items scattered throughout the arena. One of the biggest draws for beverages is the Tim Horton’s coffee carts in the arena, a must-have for coffee lovers and hockey fans alike. A candy-only station and an all-kosher food station are available in addition to the traditional fare. The stadium also features a full-menu version of Subway in the lower concourse that is open during games.
However, a buffalo chicken cheesesteak, while amazing and delicious, will cost you $15, not including a drink or side of fries. Pricing is higher than you would pay at a restaurant or store, but that won’t come as a shock to most sports fans. The bottomless soda that comes in a collectible cup for $11 is a must-have for large families who don’t mind sharing a drink and running down to refill it throughout the evening.
Panthers games have experienced a mix of atmospheres – the Panthers now draw a solid crowd, when in years past it would have remained relatively empty. The fans at Florida Panthers games are also becoming more knowledgeable, aided in no small part by the influx of exciting young talent to a team with grizzled veterans.
Another factor that affects the game day experience is the visiting fans. South Florida is a haven for Canadian snowbirds who come down for the winter, and while here, they pack BB&T Center whenever the Jets, Canucks, Canadiens, Flames, Maple Leafs, Senators, or Oilers come to town, creating a near-home arena effect for these visitors. In addition, similar crowds arrive for Bruins, Rangers, and Flyers games, making for a unique atmosphere.
The arena itself has also had minor makeovers in the past year. The new logo is everywhere, and things like pylons and doorways have been decorated in red wrapping as well, adding to the feel that this is the home of the Florida Panthers.
BB&T Center is situated in a great area of South Florida – nestled literally on the edge of the Everglades, the other side of the arena is bordered by Sawgrass Mills Mall, full of shopping and eating options. Several nice neighborhoods also surround the area, with homes always looking well-manicured and roads remaining clean and clear. The people are also friendly and welcoming.
When looking for a place to stay, hotels are easy to find both in the immediate surrounding area and several exits to the north, south, and east on either I-75 or I-595. Restaurants at the mall across the street include the likes of California Pizza Kitchen and Cheesecake Factory, as well as simpler locations like Chili’s and Steak ‘n Shake.
Having to deal with many of the aforementioned issues, fans in South Florida are among the worst when it comes to being fair-weather fans. However, the Panthers are unique as they have a small but extremely passionate fan base and group of season ticket holders that buy into the team wholeheartedly. These fans buy every new jersey and every new gimmick the team comes out with (beware the cow bells from the late 2000s PR push), and they scream as loud as anyone in the league, when they show up. But the recent influx of talent and subsequent winning streaks has also begun to re-attract some past fans who had lost their faith and interest in the Panthers.
Getting to BB&T Center is very easy. The arena is situated literally feet from one of the biggest highway interchanges in South Florida (where I-75 and I-595 meet), giving equal access from Miami to the south, Fort Lauderdale to the east, Fort Myers to the west, and Palm Beach to the north. Additionally, there is an exit right off the highway that literally empties into the parking lot of the venue.
Parking on site can run upwards of $20, but it is plentiful. Thanks to a corporate partnership, if you happen to be driving a Lexus you’ll get free parking onsite right in front of the stadium entrance.
Return on Investment 4
For the average fan looking to tick off a stadium from their list of NHL arenas, BB&T Center is a decent one to visit. The Panthers are hit-or-miss in terms of on-ice performance, but lately the trend has been moving upward. While food may be a little too pricey for most, the quality of the on-ice product is on the rise. There is also a lot to see at the games, which makes the atmosphere a lot more fun than it has been in the past.
During pre-game, all fans are allowed to visit the ice level seats to watch practices for both teams. This can be quite an experience for someone who can only afford tickets to the upper level. Some fans also may get a free puck from time to time.
Throughout the game, there are entertaining games played by fans, and the in-arena host gives away prize packs or tickets to an upcoming concert. Fans can also get some quality used uniforms and team merchandise in the old-time sports store located in the lower concourse.
Right next to that is the Den of Honor, a hall of fame of sorts for the Panthers to honor the greats who have passed through the team, and to help the fans relive some of the team’s most memorable and influential moments.
If you want to see how a pre-game show is taped, fans can get up close to the pre-show on the outside patio right in front of the entrance. Or, if you want to relax outside and sample a cigar, there is an outside patio on the north side of the facility which features beautiful shade trees and lighting, with patio furniture and a cigar stand by the doorway – this lets you live the Miami lifestyle with relative ease.
All-in-all, BB&T Center is family friendly and provides a quaint atmosphere. The last few seasons are proving that this quaint atmosphere can also swell into a roaring crowd, thanks to successful records. In addition, a better game day experience has led to a more welcoming environment. The Panthers are definitely on the upswing, and a visit to BB&T Center will certainly reflect that trend.