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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Joe Louis Arena – Detroit Red Wings

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

Joe Louis Arena 600 Civic Center Dr Detroit, MI 48226

Year Opened: 1979

Capacity: 20,066

Demolished: 2019 - 2020


Last Call for The Joe

With the 2017-2018 season around the corner, the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League are preparing to move to some shiny new digs. Many believe that this is a necessary move so that the Red Wings can continue to compete on a financial level with the other teams in the NHL. With the impending move to the newly branded Little Caesars Arena, the Red Wings are also preparing to say good-bye to the Joe Louis Arena, one of hockey’s most unique and charismatic facilities to date. What The Joe lacks in amenities and revenue streams, is more than made up with what one of the most special groups of fans in all of sport bring to the atmosphere. The Red Wings ownership are banking on that special atmosphere being brought over to Little Caesars.

Built in 1979 and named after the famous boxer, the Joe Louis Arena has been home to one of the richest hockey eras south of the 39th parallel. Affectionately known as Hockeytown, Detroit is a unique market in the United States where a pretty substantial argument can be made that it is a hockey-first market. Owned by the City of Detroit, The Joe is attached to the Cobo Center, the local convention center, probably most famous for hosting the annual International Auto Show.

In 1982, the Red Wings, one of the NHL’s “Original Six” franchises, were purchased by Mike Ilitch. The founder and owner of Little Caesars Pizza, Ilitch, who also owns the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball, has long been a proponent of moving business back to downtown Detroit, which continues to struggle. The Red Wings have long been the centerpiece of that strategy with the Joe located right on the Detroit River across from Windsor, Ontario. Any sort of hockey fan needs to ensure that they make a pilgrimage to the Joe Louis Arena while they still can. It would be a shame to miss the last call of The Joe.

Food & Beverage 3

Concession options at the Joe Louis Arena are pretty average, but there is enough there to keep fans satisfied. There are a number of main concessions throughout the concourses. There, fans will be able to find the typical arena concessions. Hot dogs ($4.50), sausage, nachos, peanuts, Cracker Jack, popcorn ($3.75), pretzels, chips, ice cream and candy are all available. As expected, the pizza options come from Mike Ilitch’s Little Caesars. The Little Caesars concessions offer a decent selection of pizza in either the regular or deep dish variety. Whole pizzas are also available. The Red Hot Wings concession would also be of interest as they provide a variety of chicken wings.

Joe Louis Arena does boast a well-stocked bar area, which is better than the average arena. Beer selections are not over the top, but are decent. Labatt Blue, Miller Lite, Blue Moon, Coors Banquet, Coors Light, Foster’s, Budweiser and Bud Light are all available in various areas ($7.25/$10). Soft drink options are Coca-Cola products and can be found all over the place ($5.75). Tim Hortons also provides hot options including coffee, hot chocolate and french vanilla cappuccino.

Atmosphere 3

Located on the shore of the Detroit River, the Joe Louis Arena is not much to look at from the exterior. Under the maze of highways and monorail tracks, The Joe hides behind the much larger Cobo Center and is pretty much lost with regards to downtown Detroit landmarks. The exterior is covered with grey and red siding and lacks any sort of windows. Fans approaching the Joe Louis Arena will immediately be struck with the number of stairs leading to one of the two main entrances.

Inside The Joe, fans are greeted with dark concourses that let in absolutely no natural light. There are a number of things to explore in the concourses for Red Wing fans. A number of murals attempt to brighten up the dank concourses and pillars are decorated with framed pictures of Detroit Red Wing legends as well as murals of important moments in Red Wings history. The trophy case can be found with little effort and there are a ton of historical artifacts to be found within. Decals honoring great Red Wings can also be found on the concourse floors. At the Gordie Howe entrance, fans are greeted with large banners thanking the recently departed Mr. Hockey. Below those banners are the highlights of the concourse area, the bronze statues of the members of the famous Production Line. Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio and Gordie Howe each are memorialized in a unique fashion.

Inside the seating bowl fans are treated with a sea of red-leather stadium seats. The single concourse empties to a double bowl, with staircases heading to the upper level. The ice surface is aligned in an east-west configuration. The north side of the arena is the best spot to be if you want a great picture with the Hockeytown logo at center ice.

Above the ice surface, the rafters are absolutely littered with red and white championship banners. These include the eleven Stanley Cup championship banners which were earned in 1936, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008. The Red Wings do push the envelope a bit by raising banners for achievements that no other team in the NHL recognizes, including the best record in the conference and division at the end of the regular season. A banner for the Presidents Trophy as the team that finishes the regular season with the best record will often be right beside a banner exclaiming the best record in the conference.

Neighborhood 3

The neighborhood surrounding the Joe Louis Arena is not the greatest as many would expect from downtrodden Detroit, however there are a number of items that may be of interest to fans visiting. The Joe is located right on the shores of the Detroit River, immediately south of the Cobo Center, Detroit’s convention center, in the Fort/Cass neighbourhood, just south of downtown proper. It is definitely hidden from those just driving by and the new location for Little Caesars Arena will provide a more visible locations, close to other Detroit sports venues. There are a few spots along the way for fans to catch a pre or post game meal. In the immediate area the Signature Grille, Cobo Joe’s and London Chop House may be of interest. However, fans who are willing to make a bit of a walk will want to consider Cheli’s Chili Bar and Hockeytown Cafe. Both offer an atmosphere that is extremely connected to the Red Wings and are worth checking out. However, as expected, both are very popular for game days.

Fans looking for other sporting options will not be disappointed in the area. Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers play at nearby Comerica Park and the National Football League’s Detroit Lions play at Ford Field. Fans who want to pair a basketball game with a Red Wings game will have to head out to Auburn Hills for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. However, the Pistons will be joining the Red Wings in their new home at Little Caesars Arena for the 2017-2018 season. Otherwise, a closer option would be on the campus of the University of Detroit Mercy where college basketball’s Detroit Titans play in Calihan Hall on a court named after Dick Vitale.

In the immediate area of The Joe is of course the Cobo Center, which hosts a number of events, probably most famously the International Auto Show. The Michigan Sports Hall of Fame can be found there also. Unless there is another function happening at the Cobo Center, fans are able to walk through to get to The Joe. One of the highlights of the walk would be the large bronze statue of Joe Louis himself. Other options in the nearby area would include shows at the Fox Theater or heading to Greektown to the casino.

There are a couple of spots to stay in downtown Detroit for fans that are interested. Both the Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza can be found within walking distance.

Fans 5

What makes the Detroit Red Wings a truly special experience is the fans. Hockey has some pretty ardent fan bases. Any Original Six franchise is usually a pretty special spot to catch a game, but the fans in Detroit are unique. They become as much a part of the experience as the players. The Joe boasts over 250 consecutive sellouts. With a capacity of over 20,000 fans, that is a significant achievement. In the past three seasons, the Red Wings have ranked in the top four in home attendance and have averaged over 20,000 fans every season.

Red Wing fans may not be over the top noisy like Montreal Canadiens or Chicago Blackhawks fans, but when the time is right they get VERY loud. A Red Wings goal in the first period elicits the same reaction and decibel level as a goal in the third period and if a fight breaks out on the ice, the roof is blown off the Joe Louis Arena.

Red Wing fans will continue singing songs long after the play has begun and the audio system has stopped playing the song. They are intelligent and no fan base wears the home jersey in the sheer numbers that they do in Detroit.

Access 3

Getting to the Joe Louis Arena is usually not too difficult. Although it is located right on the banks of the river, amidst a maze of elevated highways and public transit tracks, it is located close to interstate highways I-375 and I-75 as well as the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

For fans interested in public transportation to get to the game, the Detroit People Mover has a stop right at the Joe Louis Arena. See the Detroit People Mover website for maps, fares and schedules.

In the immediate surrounding area, there are a number of parking options. As with many big city cases, consider pre-purchasing parking, especially if you are new to the area.

The Southeast and Gordie Howe gates are both preceded by large staircases. Considering the proximity to the river, and cold Detroit winters, this was probably not the greatest idea ever. Steps can get slippery and railings are a must.

The concourses in the Joe Louis Arena are dark and can get congested at times. The washroom situation is very convoluted and can get crowded. The best option is to look for the washrooms on the outside edge of the concourse that are up the stairs.

Return on Investment 4

There is decent value in seeing a Detroit Red Wings hockey game. As with most teams, ticket prices will fluctuate. The general range is from $255 to $40 per game. There are some bargains still available, but expect a big increase next season with the move to Little Caesars. As far as the fan cost index, the Red Wings fair very well in the NHL as the 20th most expensive option, well below the NHL average. What makes the dollar value worth it is the unique atmosphere inside the JLA seating bowl, and one of the best fan bases in all sport.

Extras 3

An extra mark for the final season at Joe Louis Arena.

An extra mark for the monument to boxing great Joe Louis which can be found in the Cobo Center.

An extra mark for being Hockeytown and possibly the one “Hockey-First” city in the United States.

Final Thoughts

Take the opportunity to get to the Joe Louis Arena while you still can. Time is running out on the final season and it would be a shame for any hockey enthusiast to miss out on seeing this Original Six team where Steve Yzerman brought them back to glory. The 2017-2018 season will definitely be different for the Red Wings and the ownership is banking on that special fan base heading north to the new arena after the Last Call at the Joe.

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