NEW YORK — When the New York Islanders advanced to the Stanley Cup semifinals in 2020 and 2021, team staff had to make do with less-than-ideal accommodations at outdated Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale.
The nearly 50-year-old building didn’t have enough seats, it didn’t have enough suites, it didn’t have any hospitality areas to speak of, its few amenities were badly outdated and its press box, while close to the playing surface, was ill-suited for the volume and needs of modern-day broadcasters and digital/print media.
As the Tempe City Council was busy voting on Thursday to send the Coyotes’ proposed arena and entertainment district to referendum in May, however, the Coyotes’ players, coaches, management and training staffs were getting a close-up look at how different life could look if citizens approve that project.
Like the Coyotes, the Islanders faced years of financial struggles, ownership instability, a lack of success on the ice, arena uncertainty and relocation rumors. All of those struggles were left behind when $1.5-billion UBS Arena officially opened in November 2021 in Elmont, which sits on the Queens-Nassau County border, earning it the nickname: The Gateway to Long Island.
UBS is one of five NHL arenas to open within the past decade, along with Little Caesars Arena in Detroit (2017), Rogers Place in Edmonton (2016), T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (2016) and Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle (2021), where $1.15 billion in renovations to the existing Key Arena have made it a new arena in all but the strictest of technical terms.
Each arena has its own charms and unique spaces.
While Little Caesars sits in an area of downtown Detroit still awaiting promised urban renewal, it has an entire mall area surrounding it in which storefronts face the interior concourse and the exterior district fabric in a first-of-its-kind design that acts as a retail galleria with offices, four full-service restaurants, retail and amenities open to the public during event times. It has a litany of suite, club and loge options, the outdoor Chevrolet Plaza that can accommodate 3,000 people and features a 900-square foot video board. The arena has a video system that uses 12 laser projectors to turn the facade of the upper bowl into a constantly changing media panorama, and the Budweiser Biergarten; an outdoor ticketed space that includes lawn seating and a glass house. The arena also features the most spacious media work room and dining area in the league.
T-Mobile is right off the Vegas strip and as such, it has the feel of another show; another entertainment option in Vegas’ rich array of choices. It has the well-known Toshiba Plaza outside of the arena that hosts bands, DJs and other performances on a stage. It has an array of indoor gathering spaces and party decks including that cool castle at one end of the arena. It has perhaps the best in-game entertainment in the league and myriad grades of suites to satisfy every level of clientele.
Rogers Place also has a litany of fan amenities but its most famous feature may be the Oilers dressing room.
Climate Pledge has a rich history as the former KeyArena (home of the ill-fated Sonics). It sits at the base of the iconic Space Needle on the 74-acre Seattle Center campus, the arts and cultural hub of the city. As such, there is public art surrounding the arena. The arena has four stores inside that feature Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” cashier-less technology. There is a massive wall of plants on one of the lower concourses, interspersed with round LED screens depicting nature scenes or sustainability tech images such as windmills, solar panels and electric vehicles. There’s the 36,000-square-foot Alaska Airlines atrium in which the tail of a plane rests above an escalator. The arena also features local craft beers and LED boards everywhere, tying it to two of Seattle’s well-known industries.
It’s hard to compare arenas, and Little Caesars’ galleria is spectacular, but UBS may be the crown jewel of them all. Built adjacent to the Belmont Park thoroughbred horse racing facility, UBS has a charm and tie to the region and its history. The red-brick design of the facade, the arches, the lanterns and the greenery were all created to make it feel as if the arena has always been there beside the racetrack.
UBS’ main entrance is inspired by Grand Central Station in Manhattan with its escalators, deep woods and elegant feel. The night-sky ceiling will eventually feature a constellation, there are murals on the walls depicting the history of the area including Eddie Brown, the first black jockey to win a leg of the Triple Crown, the region’s rich aviation history and of course, the Islanders’ four Stanley Cups in the early 1980s.
What separates these arenas from the old venues is the common spaces; the gathering spaces where the game isn’t necessarily the main attraction, although it is generally incorporated into those spaces.
“That’s the new thing with arenas,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said. “It’s not just about the seats. It’s about the spaces. It’s experiential. Fans don’t just want to go to a game. They want to have an experience.”
While the surrounding developments have not yet taken shape, UBS Arena has plenty to offer in that regard, including multiple club and suite areas, a large terrace at one upper end of the bowl, and a massive outdoor-but-covered terrace that overlooks Belmont and features a long line of taps.
The arena also boasts what is perhaps the best team shop in the NHL, with rich woods and antique display tables that give it the feel of a Ralph Lauren store. There is also a custom shop where you can add a wide variety of team associated patches to any form of merchandise — shirts, jackets, bags, hats — while you watch a game.
The Coyotes have not revealed many plans for the interior of their proposed arena. Until that project is approved, it is unlikely that they will, for fear of getting ahead of themselves.
A presentation released earlier this year suggests the possibility of a ribbon board around the entire ceiling of the ice surface with a screen covering the entire ceiling. That would make for a dazzling experience within the bowl, both for games and for shows.
It’s also noteworthy that the original exterior design was scrapped because owner Alex Meruelo didn’t feel that it evoked Arizona. The new exterior shows a copper skin that is consistent with the state’s mining history.
We’ll have to wait until this summer to get a better sense of what the Coyotes have planned, but you can bet that they have gone to school off the NHL’s newest venues, as well as other venues. An Islanders spokesman said that team’s officials toured arenas all over North America and Europe to take the best ideas from each and attempt to incorporate as many as possible into UBS, while staying true to the area’s feel and history.
It shows. UBS is a beautiful arena with spacious concourses, amenities aplenty and an overall vibe that fills a fan base and organization with pride.
It’s a safe bet that the Coyotes will attempt to do mimic that feel.
Top photo of UBS Arena via Getty Images