Pensacola Bay Center – Pensacola Ice Flyers
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Pensacola Bay Center 201 E Gregory St Pensacola, FL 32502
Year Opened: 1985 Capacity: 8,150
Hockey in the Hangar
The Pensacola Ice Flyers have competed in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) since the 2009-10 season. Since that time the Flyers have won the President’s Cup and the league’s championship trophy twice, in 2013 and 2014.
The team’s nickname pays tribute to Pensacola’s naval history, which is only appropriate given the fact that Pensacola is home to one of the largest naval bases in the country and is home to the famous Blue Angels flight squadron, which is stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola. The Blue Angels perform at air shows across the country and have performed in front of over 200 million spectators since their founding in 1946.
The Ice Flyers compete in downtown Pensacola. Nicknamed “The Hangar,” the Bay Center opened in 1985 and has a seating capacity of 8,150. From the inside, the building is beginning to show its age, but Pensacola has a loyal hockey fan base that more than makes up for an aging venue.
Food & Beverage 3
There are four main concession stands located in the facility that each offer the same menu and prices; there are two stands each on the east and west sides of the building. The prices are reasonable for a venue of this size in a lower-tier hockey league – the menu items consist of chicken tender boxes ($7), hamburgers ($6), large pretzels ($5), popcorn ($4), small pretzels ($3), nachos ($3), and hot dogs ($3). Alcohol is sold at $7 for a 32oz draft including Bud Light, Miller Lite, or Michelob Ultra. The venue also has coffee stands set up with hot chocolate and coffee selling for $3.50 and lattes for $4.75.
In addition to the main concession stands, Pensacola Bay Center has food carts selling pork sandwiches and nachos stand selling nachos with a wider and bigger selection of toppings you can’t get at the main stands. These food carts are located on the north and south concourse level, which is open and allows you to not miss any game action while you get a bite to eat.
The venue also has several liquor bars located throughout the building; I counted five bars in total, each selling double mixed drinks for $12 and single mixed drinks and beer for 7 dollars; there is a wider selection of different beers available at these liquor bars than at the main stands.
Pensacola Bay Center is starting to show its age. From the outside the venue cuts an impressive figure, sitting at the foot of I-110 and being the first thing most people see when driving into downtown Pensacola. Inside the venue, there is a lower level that wraps around the building with an upper level that is usually closed off, located on the east and west sides of the building.
The main entrance and box office are located on the west side of the building – fans enter the arena on the ice level and then go up some stairs to get to the main concourse. The concourse is designed in a wraparound configuration with the east and west sides consisting of concession stands and a rather large merchandise stand for a league of this caliber. The east and west sides do not offer views of the ice, but you can walk around the entire building to the north and south sides, which do have ice views.
The Ice Flyers staff does a tremendous job in terms of game day experience with numerous promotional contests throughout the game. There are numerous stands set up such as chuck-a-puck, a 50/50 raffle, and promotions where fans can even win a jersey off of a player’s back from that night’s game. In addition, almost every game is a special themed night for the Ice Flyers. On my most recent visit, it was Margaritaville Night, but they also have military-themed nights as well as $5 nights, where tickets to any seat can be purchased for just $5.
The mascot at Pensacola Bay Center is a bald eagle named Maverick who participates in t-shirt tosses and constantly engages with kids in attendance. The only complaint I have is that the sound system could have been louder, and the four-sided scoreboard hanging down from the roof is very reminiscent of the type of scoreboard you would have found in the 1990s, and not what arenas have in 2018.
Pensacola Bay Center is located north of downtown in kind of a rundown area. The only thing located within walking distance are a couple of vacant buildings and the oldest cemetery in the state of Florida, which is located directly across the street from the arena; the Grand Hotel is also located almost directly next door. However, a short drive south will take you to downtown Pensacola, and that area of town has a plethora of nightlife options and restaurants.
No trip to Pensacola would be complete without a trip to Rosie O’Grady’s, located in the famed Seville Quarter. This historic restaurant, which is located in a building that opened its doors in 1871, is famous for its dueling pianos and its signature Hurricane cocktail drink. Seville Quarter is a one-block stretch of French Quarter-inspired buildings that resemble those you would find in New Orleans. These buildings, most of which opened their doors in the 1800s, feature numerous bars such as End of the Alley Bar, Fast Eddies, and Phineas Phogg’s.
In addition, you’ll find more bars and restaurants just down the road on Palafox Street. Tin Cow, Old Hickory Whiskey Bar, World of Beer, and O’Reilly’s Pub are just a few of the bars located on this stretch. There are also many restaurants and food trucks located in downtown Pensacola, so you should be able to find anything you’re looking for. McGuire’s is a famous restaurant located east of downtown and gets pretty packed on weekends, while seafood restaurants such as The Fish House, Jaco’s Bayfront Grille, DeLuna’s, and Joe Patti’s line the waterfront as well.
You can also find many different bars and restaurants in Pensacola Beach about 15 minutes away, and if you want to get away for the weekend the beaches of Destin are located about 40 miles east, while the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are about 30 minutes west.
For lodging, there is the Grand Hotel right across the street from Pensacola Bay Center, but it can be pricey; there are plenty of other options for lodging located throughout Pensacola including a few budget-friendly hotels near downtown. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have additional lodging as well – just remember that the closer to the water you are the more expensive the hotels will be.
Pensacola is very proud of its naval history, so I recommend taking a trip to the National Naval Aviation Museum located at the Naval Station. This museum has more than 150 vintage aircraft on display including four jets from the Blue Angels, the first plane to cross the Atlantic and former President George W. Bush’s private plane.
The museum is kind of a detour, being in an out-of-the-way location, but I highly recommend it. Also while in town check out the Pensacola Lighthouse, one of the most haunted lighthouses in the country, or Fort Barrancas, which is an old fort located on the same property.
The Pensacola area is unique in that it attracts people from all over the country. With the beaches and warm weather, the area attracts a lot of “snowbirds,” meaning retired people from the north who flock to the warmer weather in the winter. In addition, the area attracts people stationed at nearby Pensacola Naval Air Station. The mix of young and old creates a pretty unique fan base and a melting pot of different cultures. I saw a lot of fans wearing their favorite NHL jerseys, as well as a few people wearing Red Wings, Bruins, and Blues apparel.
Many of these fans remember the old days of the Pensacola Ice Pilots, who competed in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) from 1996-2008. The ECHL established a popular fan base in a region that was not a big hockey draw. The Mobile Mystics, Mississippi Sea Wolves, New Orleans Brass, Jackson Bandits, and Tallahassee Tiger Sharks were all local teams that created fierce rivalries and brought packed arenas on weekends. Those days are long gone, however, and the renamed and in a new league Pensacola Ice Flyers are the only team that remains in the area.
The Ice Flyers currently average about 3,400 fans per game, which ranks third in the league. With the upper levels closed off, it means the fans fill up the lower seating bowl to create an even louder atmosphere. Whenever the Ice Flyers score fans move their arms up and down in unison as the goal horn blares throughout the building – when I say that over 90% of fans in attendance participate in the celebration I am not exaggerating.
Pensacola Bay Center is located at the southern end of I-110, a north and the south auxiliary road that connects I-10 to downtown Pensacola. With the arena located about 10 minutes south of Interstate 10, the main interstate into Pensacola, the Bay Center is not hard to miss as it sits at the foot of I-110 and is the first thing most people will see when entering downtown Pensacola.
There are many parking lots located around the arena, charging an expensive $10 per car to park. If you don’t want to pay that ridiculous price there are several parking lots where you can park for free, located around St. Michael’s Cemetery which is direct across the street from Pensacola Bay Center. Just be wary as this area can be confusing since there are many one-way streets in this part of town.
Return on Investment 2
Tickets are priced as follows: floor level behind the glass ($29), center ice ($20), corners ($18), and end zones ($15), which I find to be rather on the high side for this level of professional hockey. Factor in $10 parking plus concessions and a family of four could easily spend over 100 dollars. But then again, Pensacola is a tourist area so everything is more expensive here than compared to other places.
The Pensacola Ice Flyers have some of the most passionate and loyal fans you’ll find in minor league sports. Most of the fans know the players by name, and their passion and loyalty are impressive given the fact that the Ice Flyers compete in a non-traditional hockey market; many of the fans have carried over from the Ice Pilot days.
The Pensacola Ice Flyers staff goes above and beyond with their promotional efforts – every night being a different-themed night helps with drawing in fans.
Because of rather inexpensive rental rates, many performers such as The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, David Bowie, Rush, Van Halen, and Prince have used Pensacola Bay Center for pre-tour rehearsals before their respective worldwide tours. But perhaps the most famous concert in the building that never actually took place was when Michael Jackson rented out the facility for a month in 1988, before embarking on his worldwide Bad Tour.
During his extended stay in Pensacola thousands of fans would camp out in the Bay Center’s parking lot hoping to catch a rare glimpse of the King of Pop – hopefully, the sound system in the arena worked a little better back then. A “who’s who” list of performers has also performed at the Bay Center over the years as well, with the first act being Kiss in January 1985.
Pensacola Bay Center may be a little outdated compared to today’s standards, but despite being located in a lower-tier league of professional hockey the team draws quite well. Despite playing in a league with constant reshuffling, it looks like the Ice Flyers are here to stay, and that hockey will be played at The Hangar for many years to come.