Calgary Flames

What the Calgary Flames’ new arena should copy from FLA Live Arena in Sunrise Florida

After much back and forth and endless political posturing by everyone involved, the Calgary 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, Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, the Flames’ current home in the Saddledome, Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, and United Center in Chicago, let’s turn our eyes to FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, another similar project to the new arena in Calgary. The arena is located well outside of Miami, but with really good access by highway.

Here is what the Flames should borrow and definitely not borrow from the home of the Florida Panthers.

History of FLA Live Arena

Officially opened in 1998, the arena in Sunrise was developed to host the Florida Panthers, who at the time were sharing Miami Arena with the Miami Heat. Unlike most arenas, this one was nearly 100% publicly funded, with Brouward County issuing nearly $200 million in bonds to cover the cost. The balanced was financed through a tourism tax. As a result, there is a debt owing on the project, which is paid by a combination of the aforementioned tourism tax, sales taxes, and arena profits.

FLA Live Arena was one of the fastest completed arena projects, breaking ground in October 1996 and opening just two years later. With the agreement for the Panthers to play out of Miami ending that season, the construction needed to be substantially completed for the start of the 1998–99 season.

Since then, the arena has been host to numerous hockey games, dozens of big-name concerts, wrestling, Disney on Ice, and so much more.

FLA Live Arena is one of just three arenas in the league without a sponsorship agreement. Only the iconic Madison Square Gardens in New York and the permanently sponsored Mullett Arena at ASU are the other two. The arena in Sunrise was previously sponsored by BB&T, a large bank in the area, but after it went through a couple of mergers, the arena sponsorship agreement was not renewed in 2021. The County opted to go with the name FLA Live until a new sponsorship agreement is secured.

To wear or to tear

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

Tear: Location, location, location

Sunrise Florida is very much not Miami, and this arena very much has the feel of not being a downtown arena. Located 41 kilometres from downtown Miami, this arena is very much a trek to get to from the city centre. By road it’s about a half hour drive without traffic, but by transit from either Miami or Fort Lauderdale, it is at least a two hour commute. This is a big problem for accessibility, particularly on the less impactful nights on the schedule. Downtown arenas are still a must in the NHL.

The good news is that the Flames don’t have to worry about this. With the arena located in downtown anyway, this is already one problem solved.

Wear: Ticket prices

Whether it is because of accessibility to the arena or the team not having built out a strong fanbase in a large crowded sports market, ticket prices to see the Panthers are some of the cheapest in the league. According to a study by The Athletic, the Panthers have the cheapest tickets in the league, averaging $41.97 for a non-premium ticket. This is a steal of a deal!

The Flames currently sit near the bottom of the league for ticket prices, and while the ticket prices will no doubt increase to cover the cost of the new arena, the market in Calgary can only bear so much. The Flames should be careful when setting ticket prices for the new arena to try and retain the affordable pricing for many.

Wear: Quality interior layout and food options

One thing that the arena and sunrise has going for it is the interior. It is very impressive. Let’s take a look through some pictures:

The arena has a glass elevator bank going up through the multiple concourses. As we have discussed in numerous of the arena series posts, the Flames’ new arena needs to have multiple concourses, but having the elevators being so prominent and using the glass as a feature is a standout part of the arena.

The other excellent part is the way the team has used the logo as a photo spot for fans. This builds engagement online and encourages others to come out. Definitely something that the Flames’ new arena needs.

The other really cool thing that FLA Live does is it has multiple sections talking about the team’s history, logo, colours, and more to help fans understand not only the product on the ice but also the symbolism behind the team. This creates broader alignment with the team’s message, allowing fans to remain engaged with the team even if the product on the ice isn’t as fun to watch.

This is something that the Flames and Saddledome do really well currently. The team uses the 1989 cup run, history of the 1988 Olympics, and iconic moments from its past around the arena to continue the lore of the team and build engagement with both older and newer fans. These things may look like nothing but they really do matter. The Flames should continue to showcase its history in the new building.

On top of that, the food and drink options in the arena are excellent. Not only are there tons of choices for food, there are also lots of different stations for food, minimizing lineups.

Historically, hockey games have been paired with beer and salty snacks, but this is not always what everyone wants at the arena. FLA Live has a number of different drink options at their bars, but also has a wine store, allowing those who may not want to crack open a cold one to have a nice glass of wine instead. While the Saddledome does have wine offerings, having multiple quality choices makes a difference to those who may care less for beer.

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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