Photos by Jared Goodman, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum 500 Howard Baker Jr. Ave. Knoxville, TN 37915
Year Opened: 1961 Capacity: 6,500
Good ‘Ole Hockey Top
When one mentions Knoxville, Tennessee, the first thing that comes to their mind probably isn’t hockey. Football, the Volunteer brand more likely than not, is what’s usually at the front of everyone’s brains. But hockey has a decent following in the region nonetheless, perhaps fueled by the success of the nearby Nashville Predators of the NHL. Two hours east of Music City, fans are coming out in droves to see the independent Knoxville Ice Bears tear through their league each night at the Civic Coliseum.
The Ice Bears were founded in 2002 as one of the charter members of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League. They spent just one season before moving to the South East Hockey League for the 2003-04 campaign. After another single-season stint in the SEHL, the Ice Bears finally joined their present circuit, the Southern Professional Hockey League, in 2004. During their tenure in the SPHL, Knoxville has become the league’s winningest team, securing four President’s Cups and an equal number of regular-season titles. For the entirety of their existence throughout three leagues, the Ice Bears have called the Knoxville Civic Coliseum their home, ripping through opponents here on a nightly basis.
The multi-purpose arena was built in 1961 and has a capacity of 6,500. The building has hosted hockey since its opening from the Knoxville Knights (1961-1968), and Knoxville Cherokees (1988-1997), and since 1992 has been the partial home to the Tennessee Vols hockey club. Before the 2019-2020 season, the coliseum went through $11 million in renovations that included the replacement of the original ice floor, the installation of a center-hung scoreboard, remodeled restrooms, the LED sports lighting has been updated to reduce glare and shadows on the rink.
Food & Beverage 5
There’s an unprecedented amount of variety present among the concessions at the Civic Coliseum, so you don’t ever have to worry about going hungry during Ice Bears games.
Some of the main dishes available include cheesesteaks, ultimate nachos, chicken or beef tacos, barbecue sandwiches, Polish sausages, pizzas, and hot dogs, which no venue is considered well-rounded without. There are still other items from flatbread pizzas, smoked sausages, taco salads, grille chicken salads, taco salads in a tortilla bowl, and chicken tender baskets with fries.
Snacks are also served at most of the counters, from peanuts and popcorn to pretzels and potato chips. Dippin’ Dots has a cart in the arena too, as does a local coffee shop called Pedal Java. The Hockey Top Sundae is a brownie topped with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and peanuts.
Alcohol is also prevalent throughout the building and includes beers, cocktails, and bottled beers from brands like Yuengling, Budweiser, Michelob, Miller Lite, Shock Top and Blue Moon are on tap for anywhere from $5-$15. Pepsi-branded sodas are $4.50 and bottled water is $4.
The Knoxville Civic Coliseum, while itself a dated venue, is a genuine old-timey barn that’s fantastic for hockey. Built-in 1961, the Coliseum had seen three franchises take the ice before the arrival of the Ice Bears in 2002. In general, the venue was already accustomed to the sport when the team made its debut.
Entering the arena, you’ll be funneled into what’s called “Exhibition Hall.” This part of the building is non-ticketed, so you’ll need to get your hand stamped if you enter the seating bowl and wish to get back to the main lobby. There are a few concession options in Exhibition Hall, but there are also plenty of options in the two concourses located behind the sidelines.
The Coliseum’s seating bowl consists of folding wooden seats, with enough space to hold 6,500 spectators. However, an entire end zone (sections FF through KK) has a partially obstructed view of the ice. Any fans sitting in these areas are unable to see part of the surface behind the goal line. Also, underneath this end zone is where you’ll find the venue’s restrooms.
Wooden Seats at Civic Coliseum, Photo by Jared Goodman, Stadium Journey
Whatever the Civic Coliseum lacks in flair, the Ice Bears have made up for in the area of the fan experience. The team has nailed their game day presentation, from the pre-game festivities to the in-game effects. One of the coolest bits comes during the ceremonial puck drop when orange lights flood the ice and Rocky Top is blasted over the sound system. This hit is instantly recognized by Tennessee Volunteers fans, as it’s popularly played at all Vols sporting events. It’s pretty great that the Ice Bears have adopted this tradition as well.
During the game itself, the PA announcer and the sound effects work in tandem to create an amusing and fun atmosphere for everyone. One example where this is executed perfectly is when a fight breaks out on the ice: the PA guy declares the scuffle a “minor disturbance,” and the Beastie Boys’ Fight for Your Right to Party starts playing immediately.
The Civic Auditorium and Coliseum are located just east of downtown Knoxville off of the James White Parkway, a stone’s throw from Volunteer Landing on the Tennessee River. It’s a quick 3 or 4-block walk to Gay Street, the site of most of Knoxville’s happenings. Here, you’ll find the famous Tennessee Theatre, the popular shopping and dining spots of Market Square, and the retro excitement of the Sunsphere. A remnant leftover from the 1982 World’s Fair when it was held in the region, the Sunsphere is today the most recognizable structure on the Knoxville skyline. It’s worth the short elevator ride to the top to take in the commanding views of the downtown area.
Additionally, sports fans must take the opportunity to visit the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame when in Knoxville. The Hall of Fame is the only facility of its kind dedicated solely to women’s basketball, and that’s thanks in part to legendary Lady Vols’ coach Pat Summit. This informative museum is also home to the world’s largest basketball, a fiberglass monstrosity that weighs approximately 10 tons.
Although the crowd, in general, is pretty mellow, there are a few groups of fans that are die-hard Ice Bears fans. One particularly loud devotee chants “ICE. BEARS.” when the pre-game skate begins. The PA announcer, seemingly aware of his presence, gives pause to let the guy do his thing. A small group, cleverly named “Knocksville", is also parked behind the away team’s bench. During the game, they yell in chorus about how much the visiting team “sucks.” One fan even occasionally bangs on a drum to get the team, and the crowd, involved in the action. There’s never a dull moment during Ice Bears games, thanks to these supporters who never say die.
Knoxville is the heart of eastern Tennessee and is situated at the intersection of three major interstates. I-40, which runs west-east, provides access to Nashville and Asheville. I-75 goes to Kentucky in the north and Chattanooga in the south, while I-81 terminates just east of the city and winds in a northeasterly direction toward Virginia.
The James White Parkway provides direct access to the Civic Coliseum from I-40, so the quick flow of traffic means getting to the game couldn’t be easier. Once you’re within spitting distance, you’ll find ample parking available at the venue’s lots and garages. The cost is $5, and only cash is accepted.
Return on Investment 2
Ticket pricing is broken into four tiers: Silver, Gold, VIP, and Box for adults, seniors, and youths. Adult tickets range from $18-$36, seniors are $16-$36, and youth prices are $10-$36. Depending on your price points the choice is yours as to how much you want to pay for a ticket but with your prices as low as $10, it makes for an inexpensive night for a family of four. Parking is $5. Once at the game, you’ll find the food options to be fairly priced as far as sports venues go.
The Knoxville Civic Coliseum earns a point for being able to maintain an old-timey feel while still offering modern amenities. The coliseum earns points for having just created a new mobile app, showing that the Ice Bears are committed to staying current and retaining relevance with their fan base.
Whatever the Civic Coliseum lacks in flair, the Ice Bears have made up for in the area of the fan experience. The team has nailed their game day presentation, from the pre-game festivities to the in-game effects. While it’s not the most glamorous hockey barn out there the Bears still offer a rewarding game day experience for fans of all ages. Anyone who enjoys the sport should find a way to get to a game on “good ‘ole Hockey Top.”