PNC Arena – Carolina Hurricanes
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
PNC Arena 1400 Edwards Mill Rd Raleigh, NC 27607
Year Opened: 1999
The Storm Continues to Surge in Raleigh
Long before hockey in North Carolina’s Triangle was ever a blip on anyone’s radar, the Hartford Whalers were one of the four World Hockey Association franchises admitted into the NHL after the merger in 1979. Playing since 1972 as the New England Whalers, the team took the name of Connecticut’s Capital City, and for the next eighteen seasons the Whalers became Connecticut’s only major professional sports franchise. While the team had periods of moderate success and boasted a passionate fan base, in 1994 Peter Karmanos Jr. purchased the franchise. Although he promised to keep the team in Hartford for the next four seasons, the team left town following the conclusion of the 1996-97 season. Reasons included sagging attendance, lack of support, and inability to get a new arena built. This followed a trend of many other NHL franchises relocating, for example the Minnesota North Stars went to Dallas, the Quebec Nordiques to Denver, and the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix.
After a failed attempt to move the Whalers to Norfolk, Virginia, it was decided that Raleigh, North Carolina would be the team’s destination. The move was part of a broader NHL strategy – the league wanted to expand hockey into southern markets, like the previously mentioned Dallas and Phoenix; there were also two new teams in Florida and Nashville. The Hurricanes did spend two seasons 90 minutes away from Raleigh in the city of Greensboro, playing at the Greensboro Coliseum, but it was a hard sell not only for the fans living in Raleigh to have to make the trip to watch their new team, but also for the fans in Greensboro who knew the team was only there temporarily. Finally, though, the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena opened in 1999; in 2002 the arena was renamed the RBC Center, and in 2012 became PNC Arena, the name by which it is known today.
The Hurricanes have now played in Raleigh for two decades. In their first decade they not only reached three conference finals and two Stanley Cup Finals, but they also won their first and only Stanley Cup in 2006. The second decade has seen a rough patch with losing seasons, attendance declines, and relocation rumors. But the Hurricane’s fortunes turned around last season (2018-2019) when the team reached the postseason for the first time in ten years, reached the conference finals, and introduced the popular postgame storm surge. The team seems to be making a turnaround, and the energy and passion the team had spent many years searching for is finally making a return to North Carolina.
Food & Beverage 5
PNC Arena, which offers an incredibly wide range of concession options, has in recent years expanded to offer some unique items. There are your basic concession stands that offer your general run-of-the-mill options, like hot dogs, chicken tenders, cheeseburgers, popcorn, and nachos, but there are also other options including The Carvery and Raising the Steaks, which offer prime rib and steak sandwiches. In addition, Sausage Stop serves up Italian Sausages and bratwurst, and NC BBQ Company offers authentic NC BBQ sandwiches. You can also pick up a chicken or beef taco at Tres Tacos, or a tasty chicken sandwich at PDQ. Pizza by the slice, chicken and waffles, and gourmet pretzels are offered as well, so there truly is no shortage of food to fit anyone’s taste.
There are also plenty of options for dessert, such as cinnamon buns at Sinfully Sinnamon and ice cream at Breyers, Dippin’ Dots, and Twisted Waffle. Cotton candy is offered as well, and beverages expand beyond the Pepsi bottled sodas: you can get your cup of Joe at Rituals Coffee Company, and you can also find several beer, wine and other hard beverage options throughout the arena, including Goose Island Beer and Bully Hill. You can get draft beers from Rivers Edge Lodge in the upper level, and PNC Arena also offers a full bar known as the Foothills Locker Room, which offers Winston-Salem-based Foothills Beer options and classic pub food, along with several TVs so you can catch up on other games. And if you’re just looking for a snack, there are Gameday Marketplaces on both the 100 and 300 levels of the arena, which serve as mini convenience stores to grab a snack, candy, bottled soda, or even a North Carolina based Cheerwine Slushie.
The only drawback with all of the offerings is the high price of concessions. For example, it costs five-fifty for a bottled soda and five dollars for a bottle of water. It costs seven dollars for a gourmet pretzel, eleven dollars for a Bratwurst or an Italian Sausage, and a Premium Draft Beer can set you back thirteen dollars. With all that being said, while I hope prices do drop over the coming years, a lot of arenas and stadiums do have an upcharge in concessions, and with the incredibly wide variety and delicious concessions offered, there is not a lot to complain about at PNC Arena.
PNC Arena offers a very good atmosphere to take in hockey at the highest level. The arena offers three levels of seating, with the less expensive seats in the 300 levels and the more expensive seats in the 200 and 100 levels. However, even from atop the nosebleeds you can still get a very good view of the game play; seats are also padded, comfortable, and fairly wide. There is good seating at either center ice (sections 304, 104, 119, and 323) or behind where the Hurricanes shoot twice (section 333 and 127). The arena also has a club lounge in sections 226-228, and a premium lounge on both sections of center ice, with hangout areas, concessions, and restrooms available without leaving the main concourse area.
The Storm Squad, the team’s cheerleading squad, pumps up fans throughout the game, and participate in promotions such as the T-Shirt Toss. The Hurricane’s primary mascot is an ice hog named Stormy – the choice of a pig is a tribute to the North Carolinian passion for BBQ. There is also a female mascot named Caroline, who was introduced a couple of years ago, and during the Hurricanes postseason run last year, Hamilton, a live pig, was considered the team’s good luck charm. The team also has a fantastic PA Announcer who is very spirited and keeps the fans excited throughout the game, shouting “Carolina Hurricanes goaaall!” and chanting players’ names, using rhythms and cadences that Caniacs pick up and chant along with him.
Some other traditions include the pregame hurricane warning siren which is sometimes rung by local and statewide celebrities, the frequent “Let’s Go ‘Canes” cheers, fans chanting “cheaters never win” after an opposing team commits a penalty, the post Canes goal celebration, the “That’s a Hurricanes Goal Woo Woo” chant from famous wrestler Ric Flair, and the signature call – “That’s hockey, baby!” – from long time legendary Hurricanes broadcaster John Forslund and the postgame Surge after a win, where the Hurricanes do some kind of on-ice performance with a different theme each game, for example at this game it was Stars War Night, and they performed simulated Lightsaber fights with hockey sticks.
Along with this game’s Star Wars Night, the Hurricanes do many other promotions, including College Colors, where you can get a Hurricanes hat in the color of a local college like UNC, App State, or ECU as part of your ticket package. There is also Pride Night, where LGBTQ inclusivity is celebrated, and College and Military Rush, where students and military personnel can get discounted tickets on the day of the game.
Simply put, there is not much in the immediate vicinity of PNC Arena; Backyard Bistro is the only restaurant within walking distance. Although it is a very good place to grab a bite before or after the game, there may be a wait for a table given that it’s the only true gathering place to eat or drink in the area. I’d recommend either the Redneck or Pulled Pork Tots, and you also can’t go wrong with either the Backyard BBQ or Bistro Club Sandwich.
A few miles away on Hillsborough Street is a Raleigh institution, Snoopy’s Hot Dogs, which has been serving up delicious Snoopy’s Style Hot Dogs (mustard, onions, and chili), burgers, BBQ sandwiches, and more for the past forty-two years. Another mile or so down Hillsborough Street, North Carolina State University’s main drag, is Char Grill Burgers, which this year celebrated 60 years serving up delicious flame-grilled burgers, fries, and shakes. Continuing the trek down Hillsborough Street will lead you to downtown Raleigh, which offers numerous restaurants and bars – some notable ones include Chuck’s Burgers, which serves up delicious gourmet burgers, fries, and milkshakes, Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, and Sitti, which serves up great Mediterranean cuisine.
Two great places to grab authentic Eastern NC-style vinegar-based BBQ would be Coopers and The Pit, and there are also two German-American fusion bars, The Flying Saucer and Clouds, the latter of which offers a true Beer Wall where you can taste ten brew options. Finally, one of my favorites is Oak City Meatballs Shoppe, which offers a variety of different meatballs along with various appetizers, sauces, and sides to pair them with.
Raleigh is the state capital and the state’s second-largest city, so there is lots to do to stay occupied. For those who enjoy shopping, Crabtree Valley Mall and North Hills, which is only about ten minutes from PNC Arena, offer more than four hundred places to shop and eat between them. Those with children would want to steer closer to downtown as Pullen Park, located adjacent to NC State, offers a full day of fun with paddleboats, a train, and a more than century-old carrousel, along with numerous playgrounds, an indoor pool, and a snack bar serving up organic local foods, beverages, and snacks.
In downtown Raleigh you’ll find Marbles Kids Museum, offering up several exhibits and activities for children, and next door is an Imax Movie Theatre if the young ones need a rest. Blocks away are the North Carolina Museum of History and Natural Sciences, both which offer free admission – the former chronicles the history of the Tar Heel State, as well as rotating exhibits, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, and an extensive gift shop, while the latter offers exhibits about nature, astronomy, and biodiversity.
Finally, the North Carolina Museum of Art, located just five minutes from the arena, features various art exhibitions from well-known painters and sculptors. The two hotel options within a mile of PNC Arena are Four Points Sheraton and Ramada by Wyndham. There are also many other hotels closer to downtown Raleigh if you would prefer to be more centrally located.
If I based this on pure attendance numbers alone the score would be lower, as the last few years the Hurricanes have either been second to last or dead last in the NHL. The Hurricanes had very solid attendance numbers for several years after the Stanley Cup win, which led to the Hurricanes being awarded the 2011 NHL All-Star game, however as years with no postseason accumulated, fans stopped coming. It also didn’t help that college basketball is king in the area, with high profile programs Duke, UNC, and NC State all playing within a thirty-mile radius.
But with the team turning a corner at the start of 2019, the loyal fans finally got rewarded, and those who had grown apathetic started to attend games again – the team both literally and metaphorically surged into last year’s postseason, and having just attended four postseason home games, the energy was loud and electric throughout, and the team rode sold-out crowds to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. But, though the run has paid dividends and attendance is up this season, and the energy and passion of the Caniacs is very prevalent, there is still plenty of room for growth. While the Hurricanes will often be in the shadow of many traditional hockey markets like New York, Boston, and the seven teams in Canada, the Hurricanes, under new ownership and a new coach, and with a great affiliation with the Calder Cup champion Charlotte Checkers, are making hockey a staple in the Carolinas once again.
Getting to and from PNC Arena is not too painful, but it is important to look around for signage and follow the parking attendant’s directions to find the designated parking area. There is a lot of on-site parking, but expect to pay the hefty sum of twenty dollars. Both the number 4 and 100 bus routes stop fairly close to the venue, and you can also take the NC State Wolfline number 6 Carter-Finley route free of charge to the arena.
The best option if you want to avoid the parking price is to take the Caniac Coach, which offers a free shuttle from several bars and restaurants in downtown Raleigh and North Hills, so you can enjoy a pregame, and/or postgame meal or drink, and not have to worry about the hassle of paying for parking. Lines at PNC Arena can get a bit long closer to game time, but luckily there are plenty of entrances, and security does a great job at getting you through as quickly as possible.
Like many venues across the country PNC Arena has a clear bag policy, but they do have a place where you can check your bag free of charge, so you don’t have to go all the way back to your car. While the concourse can get congested, especially during intermissions and postgame, it is doable if you exercise patience and know where you are trying to go. There are also plenty of handicap parking spots and lots of seating for guests with disabilities. Bathrooms are clean and well kept, and the friendly staff at the arena are always willing to show you where your seats are during the game if there is any confusion.
Return on Investment 4
Planning is the key to making the most of attending a Hurricanes game. On the surface twenty dollar parking, high concession prices, and the price of a ticket (which starts at twenty dollars, but can fluctuate depending on the night of the week and the opponent) might seem as if it will set you back financially, but carpooling, taking the Caniac Coach, and taking advantage of ticket offers and promotions, as well as looking to buy closer to game time, are some of the many ways to take advantage of a really fun and electric atmosphere that a Hurricanes game offers. Even if you end up spending the $50-$60 dollars that attending an average Hurricanes game costs including parking, tickets, and concessions, it is still worth it to see some of the best hockey players in the world.
One point goes to the large pro shop, “The Eye,” which allows you to purchase all the Hurricanes apparel you desire. If you are hoping to skip the crowds, there are plenty of smaller stores throughout the arena. Another point goes to the many traditions throughout the game, specifically the pregame sounding of the hurricane warning siren, the postgame surge, and the fantastic work from the PA Announcer; first-time attendees and season ticket holders alike all enjoy these traditions.
A third point goes to the wide variety of concession options offered at the game, and another point goes to the vast number of unique promotions, including Star Wars Night, Pride Night, College Colors Night, First Responders Night, Veterans Day appreciation, and Whalers Night, where the Hurricanes pay tribute to their more than two decades in Hartford, in both the WHA and NHL, by wearing vintage Whalers jerseys. Finally, a point for the pregame tailgating that occurs before puck drop. PNC Arena is not located in the city’s downtown, like a lot of NHL arenas are, but there is an advantage: a vast parking lot to tailgate in, much like one would do at neighboring Carter-Finley Stadium for a Wolfpack Football game or a Wolfpack Basketball game, for which the team is utilizes PNC Arena.
The Carolina Hurricanes over the past twenty years in North Carolina’s Triangle have seen some amazing highs, such as reaching the Stanley Cup Finals and capturing Lord Stanley in 2006, and some difficult lows, like a ten-year playoff drought. The team has weathered rumors of relocation, but under new ownership, and with a new coach last season, attendance increased and the popular storm surge was introduced. When they were called “a bunch of jerks” by a critic, the team and fans embraced the nickname – the “bunch of jerks” proceeded to qualify for the postseason for the first time in a decade, and reached the Conference Finals.
The Hurricanes are back to relevancy in NC and in the NHL and there is a renewed energy around the franchise, which is evident at PNC Arena during games. Now the team has a chance to host their first outdoor game next season as part of The Stadium Series, and the Hurricanes and their fans show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.