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  • Patricia Beninato

PPG Paints Arena – Pittsburgh Penguins

Stadium Info FANFARE: 4.29

PPG Paints Arena 1001 Fifth Ave Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Year Opened: 2010

Capacity: 18,087


The House That Mario Built

When the Pittsburgh Penguins began back in 1967, they played their games in the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, known as the Igloo. The team was very low on the list of Burgh sports fandom until 1984 when it drafted a kid from Montreal named Mario Lemieux. Even with lengthy breaks due to health issues, Le Magnifique racked up not only Hall of Fame numbers but captained the team to two Stanley Cup victories. However, the team was still in a lot of financial trouble in the late 1990s, to the point that serious discussions ensued about moving the team to Kansas City. Lemieux discovered that he was the Penguins’ biggest creditor, so he came up with a unique solution–create some equity, make deals with local media, and become the Pens’ majority owner in 1999.

In 2005, he drafted Nova Scotia native Sidney Crosby, who almost immediately became an NHL superstar. With the team’s popularity skyrocketing, particularly after its 2009 Stanley Cup win, the team worked out a deal for a new arena to replace the Igloo. Opening in 2010 as Consol Energy Center, it was renamed PPG Paints Arena in 2016, the same year that the Pens won the first of their back-to-back Stanley Cups. Eleven years after its opening, the Pens’ continued success means a packed house at the arena just about every game.

Food & Beverage 4

Whether you just want a snack or a full-on meal, you can satisfy just about every craving at PPG Paints Arena. Of course, it contains Pittsburgh favorites like Burgatory and Primanti Brothers, but you can also get Smith’s brand hot dogs at the Butcher’s Dog and good barbecue from Smokehouse BBQ.

All the arena favorites like nachos and popcorn are well-represented too. A unique feature is an in-house outpost of the GetGo convenience store, where fans can pick up subs, snacks, and drinks. Sadly, arena inflation prevails here, so those $4 mac and cheese bites you get while you’re filling up the car are going to cost $9 here. A hot dog and a domestic beer will run you about $28, but there are so many food options here that you can get something a little more interesting for the same price or less.

Atmosphere 5

PPG Paints Arena holds 18,187 for hockey, with great views from every seat, which are all comfortable and well-spaced. Those with balance or mobility issues should note that the upper bowl is very steep, although there are handrails on the staircases. PPG has an excellent HD center-ice screen and two LED ring displays for replays and score updates. Club and loge seats are available, as well as party suites. The Lexus Club is accessible for a $25 fee, offers a buffet for an additional $57 for adults and $28.50 for kids, and gives fans a great view of downtown Pittsburgh. The Penguins’ mascot, Iceburgh, roams through the stands, beating his drum or blowing his horn in time to the LET’S GO PENS chant. Unless the Penguins are getting routed, which doesn’t happen often, there’s always a fun buzz in the building.

Neighborhood 3

The area around PPG Paints Arena has some smaller restaurants, but Penguins Fan Central is Souper Bowl on Fifth Avenue, a block away on Fifth Avenue. While there’s some question about why “soup” is in the name when the restaurant doesn’t have it, it does offer burgers, sandwiches, and other pub food. The honey mustard chicken sandwich is not to be missed, nor are the bacon-and-cheese-loaded Souper Fries. On game days, there’s a ton of drink and food specials.

There seems to be an article in Pittsburgh media every week about plans to develop the area around PPG to entice people to hang around. Still, government vs. development is a long-time battle that doesn’t look to be won by anyone any time soon. Because Pittsburgh’s downtown is so compact, though, it’s an easy walk to the Strip District a few blocks away, where there’s something for every taste. Fans of Thai food should check out Little Bangkok, home of the best Thai cuisine in the city, and seafood lovers shouldn’t miss Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grille, owned by a scion of the famous Wholey Fish Market family.

Fans 5

The Steelers may reign supreme in the Pittsburgh sports hierarchy, but the Penguins aren’t too far behind and have had the most recent championship parade (2017), which means that PPG Paints Arena is always well-populated for home games. The stands will be awash in black and various shades of gold, depending on the era a fan’s jersey is representing, with some old-school sky-blue sweaters popping up too.

Penguins fans are knowledgeable and welcoming to opposing fans, with the possible exception of Philadelphia and Washington fans since the Flyers and Capitals are the Pens’ main rivals. However, seeing a Pens fan in his Jaromir Jagr sweater being companionable over a beer with someone in an Eric Lindros jersey gives hope for possible future world peace.

Access 5

No matter how you choose to get here, PPG Paints Arena is exceptionally accessible. Interstate 579 runs right past it, with a dedicated exit. Parking garages and lots surround the arena, with an average cost of $20. Pittsburgh’s Port Authority offers numerous bus lines that will drop you right in front. If you want to use the light rail system, aka the T, the nearest stop is Steel Plaza, a five-minute walk, but the First Avenue and Wood Street stations aren’t that much farther away. In fact, if you’re staying downtown, all hotels are at worst a twenty-minute walk from PPG, a favorite stroll among visitors.

The arena itself features wide concourses and aisles, so it’s easy to move around even if a game is sold out. Restrooms are clean and well-maintained, with wheelchair-accessible stalls. Right now, ticketing is mobile-only, and unless it’s a diaper bag, you’re not going to get a bag of any size into the arena. PPG does have a holding area for oversized bags if you need it.

Return on Investment 3

Going to Penguins games at PPG Paints Arena is not an inexpensive proposition. An upper-bowl seat will cost you a minimum of $75, more if the game features a rival like the Washington Capitals or Philadelphia Flyers. Add in food, drinks, and souvenirs, and … well, yikes. Also, the Penguins are good enough to regularly fill the arena, which means the team offers next to no breaks on single-ticket prices. However, the nearby Strip District is full of Penguins merch and good restaurants, so if you don’t have your heart set on authenticity, you can go out there and save some money on food and souvenirs. People complain, but they still come, so there’s that.

Extras 5

The 4,000 square foot PensGear store in PPG Paints Arena is open year-round and is a go-to place for unique Penguins gifts as well as the usual clothing and knick-knacks. The set for pre-and post-game shows broadcast by AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh is located by the Highmark Gate entrance, making it a popular gathering/meeting spot (no heckling the hosts, though).

I don’t know who’s in charge of the music in the arena, but they go beyond the usual chestnuts and seem to be a big fan of mid-nineties rock. The Penguins also have an excellent goal song in Andrew W.K’s “Party Hard,” which was brought back by popular demand after it was abandoned in 2019 in favor of House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” If you go to a Saturday game, expect a live band like local favorites the Clarks to entertain you. The Penguins really do go to lengths to make sure fans have a good time–or party hard, as you will.

Final Thoughts

As far as NHL venues go, PPG Paints Arena gives hockey fans a top-of-the-line game experience. Due to its semi-northeastern location, it attracts hockey fans from all over the U.S. In the waning years of its stars’ careers–Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin, and defenseman Kris Letang are all in their mid-thirties now–it’ll be interesting to see if the arena will still hold the same attraction once they’re gone. The Pens, though, have a knack for finding star replacements, and forwards Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Kasperi Kapanen, along with dynamic young goalie Tristan Jarry, look to step up and keep PPG Paints Arena one of the most entertaining venues in the NHL.

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