- Patricia Beninato
Erie Insurance Arena - Erie Otters
Photos by Patricia Beninato, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Erie Insurance Arena 809 French St Erie, PA 16501
Year Opened: 1983
Erie’s Home for Hockey
Since it was completed in 1983, the venue once known as the Erie Civic Center has continually hosted hockey, starting with the ACHL’s Golden Blades. Today, the arena is home to the Erie Otters, one of only three American teams in the Ontario Hockey League. The major junior league is part of the Canadian Hockey League, the highest level of North American amateur hockey for players aged 16 to 21.
The Otters were created in 1996 and have had great success in their 25 years of existence, winning two OHL championships and numerous division championships. Current NHL superstar Connor McDavid played his junior hockey for the Otters. Erie loves its hockey team, but like the city itself, Erie Insurance Arena is dated and a little shabby. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun here, though.
Food and Beverage 4
You’ll find the usual sports venue food suspects are well represented at Erie Insurance Arena–hot dogs, nachos, chicken tenders and the like. However, since the Otters are part of a Canadian league, you can also cover the three major Canadian food groups, namely Tim Horton’s donuts, poutine, and beer. French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy accompanied by a cold Labatt’s (or a Coke) and a Timmy Ho’s cruller will take you over the border faster than you can say “how’s it going, eh?”
The beer selection is quite good here, with plenty of local breweries like Erie Ale Works and Luminary Distillers represented. Best of all, the service is quick and friendly and the prices fairly reasonable.
Erie Insurance Arena’s seating is shaped like a horseshoe (media facilities take up one end). It holds roughly 6200 people for hockey, with two levels of seating and small club suites on the third and highest level. The seats are comfortable and roomy, and as far as sightlines go, there’s not a bad one in the house. There’s also a standing-room-only platform behind the goal on the first level, which serves as a natural gathering spot for fans.
Scoreboards on either end are clear, if not particularly big, as is the center-hung display. Otter fans love anthem singer Roy Hollis Jr. After performing the Canadian national anthem, he will take off his jacket to reveal an American flag shirt and positively wail the Star-Spangled Banner. Otto the Otter is on hand for the kids and to lead team cheers, and promotions include Chuck-a-Puck, where fans fling pucks onto the ice and try to hit targets for prizes. Be warned, though, that the Otters’ Kiss Cam can get a little out of hand, so try to distract the little ones. There are currently no restrictions due to the COVID pandemic at the arena.
There are plenty of restaurants and bars near Erie Insurance Arena, which is in the heart of downtown Erie. Unfortunately, the neighborhood is on the run-down side. On a recent Saturday night, establishments seemed sparsely populated; the biggest gathering was in front of the arena waiting to get in. Although there’s ample parking, Otters fans say that they just come for the game for the most part because they “don’t feel comfortable hanging out” in the neighborhood. When asked outside if there was a place they’d recommend for a drink or a pre- or post-game bite, fans shook their heads or shrugged. “You can get the same beer in here cheaper” was a surprisingly common refrain. I was told that the neighborhood is livelier when the Double-A SeaWolves baseball team is playing at UPMC Park, next door to the arena.
So there’s no lack of places to go, it’s just that Otters fans don’t want to go to them, apparently. As for hotels, the Bayfront area, roughly a mile from the arena, has a Courtyard by Marriott and a Sheraton. The hotel nearest the arena, the Avalon, is only about two blocks away, but it’s not in the best shape.
Erie loves the Otters, and going to a game is less like attending a sporting event and more like going to a party with extraordinarily friendly people who love to talk about hockey. Blue and gold jerseys are everywhere, although there are also red and green alternate jerseys to be seen, usually with Connor McDavid’s name on the back. Many season ticket holders have been here for the duration of the team’s existence, and many of them have been billet families for players over the years. They speak with pride about their team and players both past and present and are always happy to school visitors on the Otters’ illustrious history. Then, if you’re lucky, they’ll buy you a beer and exchange quotes from Slap Shot with you.
Thanks to its location in central downtown Erie on French Street between 8th and 10th Avenues, Erie Insurance Arena is easily accessible by car and public transit. There’s a parking garage located directly across the street from the arena with a cost of $5. In addition, two parking garages flank the arena, which cost $4. The Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, known locally as the E, has three routes that stop at the arena; its schedule can be found at https://ride-the-e.com.
The arena itself has comfortably wide concourses and multiple points of entry. Paper and mobile tickets are both accepted. There are several wheelchair-accessible seating areas throughout the arena. Restrooms are clean and have been updated with automatic toilets and hand dryers.
Return on Investment 4
One of the biggest draws of minor-league hockey is inexpensive tickets, and Erie Otters tickets are no exception. The most you’ll pay for a ticket here is $18, and the team frequently offers deals like “4 for $44”. Interestingly, the team isn’t offering any giveaways, although it does offer some discounts on team merchandise at particular games. Combined with decent concession and merchandise prices, it won’t break the bank to take the family to an Otters game, and a game is also a popular Erie date night activity.
The arena’s merchandise store, the Otters Den, is very well laid out and stocked. As mentioned in the previous section, discounts on particular merchandise happen at every game, so there are some good deals to be had. In addition, kids’ activities such as games and face painting are available, and a walk around the main concourse takes you past banners of former Erie players, Otters or otherwise. It’s a minor-league arena, though, so there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles like you might find at NHL arenas. The staff, many of whom have been here since the arena opened, are knowledgeable and friendly, to the point where fans ask after particular people if they don’t immediately see them.
If you’re a hockey fan, an Erie Otters game is fun and relatively inexpensive, even if you throw in a hot dog, a beer, and a t-shirt. It’s kind of sad, though, that more fans don’t seem to take advantage of the surrounding neighborhood, preferring to get their food and drinks inside the arena and not wanting to hang around before or after games. Maybe it’s not a destination arena, but if you’re in the area and want to see future NHL stars up close and hang out with some loyal hockey fans, you can do worse than Erie Insurance Arena.