Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
KeyBank Center 1 Seymour Knox III Plaza Buffalo, NY 14203
Year Opened: 1996
The Crown Jewel of Banditland
The year was 1992. The Buffalo Bandits were founded in what was then the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. The fledgling league was only five years into their existence and four from being the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. Of that group of seven teams from the 1992 season, only the Bandits remain, uninterrupted and undeterred. The Bandits even predate the current National Lacrosse League, which is what the MiLL would eventually become. Since then, the Buffalo Bandits have been the crown jewel of the league, which has seen plenty of change, strong years and lean years, and looks currently to be stronger than ever.
Home for the Bandits since its opening in 1996, is KeyBank Center. Located at Canalside in Buffalo, New York, KeyBank Center is the latest in a long line of corporate names which has coincided with a number of bank mergers. The Bandits are owned by the Pegula Sports & Entertainment empire, which also owns the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres, Rochester Americans and recently also the Rochester Knighthawks of the NLL. The success of the Bandits on the floor and at the gate can be attributed, in part, to the stable ownership the team has enjoyed under the Pegulas. Ultimately, what has made the Bandits so successful, has been the warm embrace that the fans in Buffalo have wrapped around lacrosse, the Bandits and the legends who have walked through the door over the over twenty-five years of Banditland.
Food & Beverage 4
The concession scene at KeyBank Center is about as good as anyone out there. There are plenty of Buffalo favorites for sale at KeyBank including Perry’s ice cream, pizza logs and Beef on Weck. Pizza, hot dogs and other expected arena fare can be found as well. Coca-Cola products are the soft drinks of choice and Tim Hortons coffee can also be found in the arena. Local brews like Genesee and others are available for those who wish a beer with the game. Fans should keep in mind that there are many stands that are not open due to the lower numbers at Bandits games versus Sabres games. One spot that should be considered is the Blue Light Zone, which is a great spot to meet and hang out before the first faceoff.
There is no question as to whom the main attraction at KeyBank Center is. From outside the arena with Alumni Plaza and the French Connection Bronze statues, it is very clear to all that this is preeminently the home of the Buffalo Sabres. The exterior of KeyBank Center does have a bit of a flying saucer look to it with the light coloured, oval shaped roof. The main atrium is not unattractive, but from the exterior, with the building up of the area with HarborCenter and other large buildings, it can be a little hard to find amongst the downtown. Inside the main atrium at the northeast side of the building, the large Sabres banners and markings do not give much indication of a lacrosse game any time soon. The concourses are similar in this regard.
Inside the seating bowl, fans will find terrific sight lines in most any seat in the three levels of seating. The new turf for the 2019 season has the main Bandits logo on it and can be best seen from the southwest side of the arena. The south corner of the ceiling is where fans can find the retired numbers of Bandits legends Darris Kilgour, Rich Kilgour and John Tavares. Alongside the retired numbers are the championship banners from 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2008. Hanging above the center of the floor is a four sided video board with ribbon rings above and below it. A full 360 degree ribbon board on the fascia of the luxury box level is also used throughout the game.
The game day presentation at an NLL game is unlike any other. The game on the field resembles a cross between hockey and basketball and the game day presentation does the same. Many purist sports fans do not enjoy the consistent rock music throughout the play but the fans in attendance dig it. Public Address announcer Chris Swenson also interacts with the fans in a way that is unique in sports. Swenson acts as announcer, cheerleader and fan all wrapped up in one package. The Bandits also feature one of the best entrances in sport as a piper enters the field from the top of the southwest lower level and walks down the stairs to the center of the field. The Bandettes cheer team dance during breaks and the Bandits mascot, Rax, makes his way around the arena, interacting with fans and participating in promotions. Overall, the Bandits do a great job of putting on an entertaining show.
It is fair to say that Buffalo would not be considered a premier tourist destination compared to other NLL cities like Toronto, Philadelphia or New York. However, fans in attendance at a Bandits game will not be at a loss for eating and drinking establishments in the immediate neighborhood. This is to be expected which is renowned for its various additions to the American cuisine scene. A trip to Buffalo without sampling some Buffalo Wings or at least a Beef on Weck is really a shame. Pearl Street Grill, Washington Square, Cobblestone, (716) Food and Sport, Panorama on Seven, The Draft Room and Labatt Brew House are among the best and closest. Fan favorite, Dinosaur BBQ is a short drive or train away in Downtown Buffalo proper.
There are plenty of other sporting options available in the immediate vicinity of the Bandits. The KeyBank Center is, of course, shared with the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL. Right across the street is HarborCenter, which is where the Canisius Golden Griffins hockey program can be found. Also, just up the street at Sahlen Field is the home of the Triple-A baseball Buffalo Bisons. Canisius College is a short drive from KeyBank Center and the Golden Griffins basketball team plays on campus at the Koessler Athletic Center. New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills, is found just outside the city at Orchard Park and is a unique experience itself. Finally, the University at Buffalo is located in nearby Amherst, where the football team plays at UB Stadium and the basketball team calls Alumni Arena home. Other entertainment options in the area would include the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino and the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum. A trip to Canalside and the Buffalo Naval and Military Park is also fun.
There are a couple of hotels that are within a few steps of the arena. Courtyard by Marriott and the Buffalo Marriott HarborCenter are good choices that are very close.
Buffalo Bandits fans are truly the class of the National Lacrosse League. The Bandits are consistently in the top two franchises in average attendance. The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw Buffalo hold down the number two spot and they led the league in 2017. Each year they average more than 13,000 fans per match. In addition to having just about the most fans in the league, Bandit fans are also amongst the loudest. The little sayings and traditions that the fans bring to the table give the Bandits almost a college hockey feel to the game. Fans in Buffalo love the banter back and forth with Public Address Announcer Chris Swenson and enthusiastically respond to a big save when Swenson questions aloud “What’s he got?” The fans respond with a boisterous “NOTHIN!” Bandit fans may even enjoy an opponent penalty more than a goal as they will blast out the “B-O-X” chant to the delight of all.
Getting to the KeyBank Center is not too difficult. Located in Downtown Buffalo, KeyBank Center is right at the Buffalo River, east of the Buffalo Skyway and south of I-190. Access to the arena right off of the highway is solid. There are plenty of parking options in the immediate area and prepaying for parking is easy through the Bandits, KeyBank Center or a third party app like ParkWiz or Parking Panda. Public transit is pretty decent near the arena. The best bet is to take the Buffalo light rail, which is free when it is above ground and has a station just to the west of the arena. Buses are also available right along Perry Street. Check out the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority website for public transit details.
The main atrium is the main entry to the arena. It can get pretty crowded just before the game begins. The concourse level is also up a flight of stairs or escalator. There are a number of ticket windows on the west side of the atrium.
Getting around the arena is not too difficult. The concourses are fairly wide, although a little more crowded around the bends. There are also ample washroom facilities. The KeyBank Center offers a “soft opening” with concessions and security opening 1.5 hours before and the full arena opening an hour before the game.
Return on Investment 5
The National Lacrosse League provides great value for the sporting dollar and the Buffalo Bandits are in the forefront of that category. Tickets for the Bandits run from $25 to $60 with many seats available, including some in the 100 level, for only $30. Add affordable parking and decent concession prices compared to top notch sporting entertainment, and a formula for an amazing time is at the fans’ fingertips.
An extra mark for the rivalries the Bandits have developed and maintained with the Rochester Knighthawks and Toronto Rock.
An extra mark for the longevity of the Bandits, now the longest running franchise in the NLL.
An extra mark for Bandit superfans.
Since 1992 the Bandits have represented Buffalo in the National Lacrosse League. Over that period of time they have solidified Banditland and become the premier franchise in the league, having success both on and off the turf. With franchises like Buffalo, the NLL looks to continue to grow and improve its position in the sporting market.