After much back and forth and endless political posturing by everyone involved, the Flames are officially going to have a new home in the coming years. The arena project is expected to include many other elements, including a community rink, outdoor and indoor meeting spaces, and more, but the key facility in all of this is the big shiny new arena for the Flames, Calgary Hitmen, Calgary Wranglers, and more.
Undoubtedly, whoever is contracted to design the new arena will be exploring rinks across North America and around the world to see what works and more importantly what doesn’t to determine what the new arena in Calgary should keep. One arena they should be looking at is SAP Center in San Jose, California, home to the San Jose Sharks. Located in a city with roughly the same population as Calgary and home of another mid-market team, the Flames and Sharks have a lot in common as franchises.
Having already looked at what the Flames should retain from the Saddledome, let’s take a look at the Shark Tank to see what they should borrow or definitely not borrow.
History of SAP Center
The arena originally known as San Jose Arena was initially started by a group of local citizens who mobilized to try and get an arena built in San Jose. Known as Fund Arena Now or FAN, the group lobbied the NHL, NBA, city officials, and more until they were able to secure the support of the mayor who put forward a motion to use tax dollars to fund the arena. This was all done before an NHL franchise was even approved for San Jose.
Construction began around 1990, and the NHL approved an arena in 1991. However, the design for the new arena was not up to the NHL’s standards, so the Sharks requested that the city make the necessary changes, including adding press boxes, luxury suites, and more, which they did.
The arena was funded almost entirely by the City of San Jose, with $132.5 million of the $162.5 million pricetag funded by city bonds. The remainder was funded by San Jose Arena Management Corporation. It is owned entirely by the City of San Jose.
The arena was opened in 1993 to coincide with the start of the 1993–94 season. It did have a minor facelift in 2007, with the installation of a new videoboard, but has otherwise not received any major redevelopments since it was built. The arena’s naming rights are owned by SAP, which was co-founded by Hasso Plattner, owner of the Sharks.
To wear or to tear
Here are the amenities from San Jose that the new Flames arena should have (wear) or not (tear):
Wear: Grand entrance
I’m a sucker for a grand entrance to an arena, and SAP Center does that really well. The man entrance is all glass, with big steps leading up to it. This then opens into the large concourse area, and put ogether it just adds to the excitement of watching a game.
The Scotiabank Saddledome does have this to a degree, but it just does not have the same feeling to it when you walk in as it opens right into the concourse without really an atrium to it. Take a look at the SAP Entrance here (photo from Wikipedia):
The new Flames’ arena will almost certainly not have the iconic shape of the Saddledome, but it should have a big entrance and atrium space like the SAP Center does.
Tear: Single concourse
The biggest issue with this arena is undoubtedly the single concourse. While I do understand that given the age and design style chosen, the single concourse was the right decision, it causes major flow issues at high traffic times, limits opportunities for food and beverage revenues from both concourses, and generally makes it less pleasant to walk around during intermissions.
The photo below shows the arena layout with one door to go down the stairs to the lower bowl, and a set of stairs from there going to the upper bowl. The only exception is access to the suites right at the top of the arena, which are accessible separately.
The Flames should opt for a double-concourse approach to their new arena. Not only does it just generally make it a more pleasant atmosphere, it increases revenue and allows you to do more with the space as a whole.
Wear: Iconic player skateout and fan experience prioritization
The Shark Tank has always been known for the way it prioritizes fan and player experience, and this starts with the iconic player entrance, skating through the shark’s head on the ice.
This is exciting for fans, with a literal shark’s head on the ice, but must also be exciting for players who get an exceptional start to the game. This is definitely something that the Flames should look at doing in their new arena.
But on top of that, the Sharks do an excellent job using lights, music, and engaging content to make the games more enjoyable. Not everyone watches hockey for the players and game on the ice, and even if you do, the entertainment of going to a game adds a whole different level of enjoyment versus simply watching it on TV at home. The Flames currently do a reasonably good job of this, but given most of the equipment in the arena is older, they are limited in what they can really do. The new arena should prioritize fan experience with cool effects, engaging entertainment, and more.
Tear: Heavy concrete design throughout
Much like the Saddledome, the SAP Center uses the brutalist architecture of the time, employing poured concrete and general blockiness throughout. While very functional, it does look unappealing aesthetically and makes it feel more like a warehouse and less like a place you want to be on a night out. Take a look at the inside of SAP Center here:
NHL teams understand they are in the entertainment business, and the product that they sell is more than just what is on the ice. Having a pretty looking arena is far more appealing to fans than a not-pretty arena, and the Flames should prioritize this in their new home. This starts with clean lines throughout, hiding away the concrete base shell that was used to build the arena. From there, employing nice designs for the arena, making different spaces feel different with paint, nice wall and floor finishes, and more, helps enhance the appeal of the arena beyond just the space to watch games.
What to expect
The Flames are still a few years away from having a new arena, but the hope is that it is among the most beautiful in the NHL. Given the fact that the City, Province, and CSEC are splitting the cost, this should be reasonable to expect. This should also be done in conjunction with the development of the surrounding area, to make the whole area feel like a real district, similar to Edmonton’s ICE District.
The part that I think Flames fans should hope for is that the new arena has an iconic shape. It’s very easy to make the new arena look like every other building in the league, but the Saddledome has been such a huge part of the Calgary skyline and the city should fight to build a building that continues that legacy. The Saddledome reflects the history and traditions of this city and province, and the new arena should do more of the same.