Calgary Flames

What the Calgary Flames’ new arena should copy from Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle

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. Having already looked at the SAP Center in San Jose, the American Airlines Center in Dallas, and the Flames’ current home in the Saddledome, let’s turn our eyes to Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, WA, another similar project to the new arena in Calgary. While it’s the newest NHL team, the arena with the naming rights owned by Amazon is actually one of the oldest arenas in the NHL currently.

Here is what the Flames should borrow and definitely not borrow from the home of the Seattle Kraken.

History of Climate Pledge Arena

Originally built in 1962 and named the Washington State Pavillion, the now home of the Kraken was built for the World Fair that year. It was subsequently bought by the City of Seattle for $2.9 million and redeveloped to be more user friendly for sports in the city going forward.

For most of its history, the arena was home to the Seattle Supersonics of the NBA, playing host to the team off and on from 1967 to 2008 when the team was relocated to Oklahoma City. It also been home to numerous big name concerts including The Beatles, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen and more.

However, as is the case with the Saddledome, the arena did age and become increasingly tough to use. The other major issue with the arena beyond age was there were sections of the arena where fans had partially or completely obstructed views of the area, making it a tough sell for a major franchise. Because of its unique shape and history, the hope was to keep the building intact but renovate it substantially to make it usable as a facility for an NHL or NBA team.

In the end, the arena renovation project was won by Oak View Group (OVG), who, alongside Kraken owners David Bonderman, Jerry Bruckheimer, and co., privately financed the entire project. The City of Seattle provided little actual financing for the $1.15 billion project, instead conceding on revenue sharing and arena ownership. The arena is designed to play home to both the Kraken as well as an NBA team down the line, with dressing rooms and other amenities built specifically for basketball.

To wear or to tear

Here is what the Flames’ new home should borrow (wear) or not (tear) from the home of the Kraken.

Wear: Unique shape and design

The most special part about the Climate Pledge Arena is that the renovation project was constructed around maintaining the arena’s original roof. This was an integral part of both bids for the project, and also allowed for the ownership group to qualify for major tax breaks for retaining the heritage asset. While this was undoubtedly a complex and costly part of the project, it makes the arena a landmark simply by virtue of its shape. Take a look at the photo below:

The ice level was dropped to below street level as part of this project, but at the end of the day, the iconic shape of the arena looms large in the psyche of the city. Like the Saddledome in Calgary, Climate Pledge Arena is a key part of the Seattle landscape, and helps provide prominance to the team in the city. The Flames’ new arena will not have the history that Climate Pledge does nor will it keep the unique shape of the Saddledome, but the new architects should design the arena to give it prominence in the city’s skyline.

Wear: Quality layout and food options

Like most modern arenas, Climate Pledge has two concourses, allowing for more food and drink stations to be set-up. However, given its name, the arena has really leaned into the climate branding, employing green walls, wood accents, and more to make the building fit the theme. Take a look at the image below:

On top of that, the arena has also used its space really well, adding in larger spots like a massive merchandise store, but also using an open ceiling to better allow for light to flow across both floors without needing multiple fixtures.

Finally, the arena has really gone funky with how they’ve done some of the setup. Take a look at this food serving spot with beautiful lighting throughout. This aesthetic enhances the fan experience, and makes for a more elevated game.

The Kraken’s home has done an excellent job of leaning into their theme, and tying the whole arena together. They have also spent the time and money to make sure that the experience is one tha fans are happy to pay for, beyond just the on-ice product. The Flames’ new arena needs to think beyond the game on the ice, and design the arena to make it a place that fans want to come to and spend their money at. This starts with a well-designed arena with quality food and drink offerings.

Wear: Exceptional fan experience prioritization

Given they are the new kid on the block, the Seattle Kraken need to work harder than other teams in the league to attract fans to the franchise and also retain them in both good times and bad. This starts by making the experience in the game fun and lively. And oh boy do they do it well.

Between quality in game entertainment, a really nice stage area for their presenters, a brass band, and so much more, you are entertained from start to finish regardless of the score on the ice. As nice as it was to watch the Flames beat the Kraken, even as an avid hockey fan, I found the experience off the ice to be just as exciting. This helps draw in fans who may not know hockey as much to come out and spend money on the game and then draw them in from there. Take a look at the images below:

Beyond just the Flames, this is something the NHL needs to embrace across the board. Hockey is in competion with the NFL, NBA, MLB, and MLS for people’s attention, and it needs to do what it can to attract people to watch it over anything else. The NHL knows that the largest chunk of its revenue comes from fans in the stands, and enhancing the entertainment provided when fans are there is key to retaining them as hockey fans first. The Flames, and every team in the league, needs to think critically about how best to do this.

Tear: Ticket prices

Seattle is a pricey city in general, and tickets to see the Kraken are especially bad. Tickets to see games in Seattle are the most expensive in the league, with an average price of $390.00 USD on the resale market. At the time of writing, the cheapest tickets to see the Flames take on the Kraken on November 4 are $193 CAD and those are at the very top in the corner of the arena. Not ideal. You would be hard pressed to find lower bowl tickets for less than $300 each.

It’s inevitable that tickets to see the Flames in the new arena will never be as cheap as they are at the Saddledome, but there is a happy medium between that and $200 per ticket for the upper bowl. The Flames should try to find a way to keep tickets reasonable for the average fan.

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.

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