While watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs over the last few years, something caught my eye besides the excellent play on the ice.
Newer markets like Tampa Bay, Nashville, and Las Vegas have created arena atmospheres that every team envies league-wide. Classic markets like Calgary, Chicago, and Montreal all have found ways to embrace building a dynamic arena atmosphere even if it is more traditional in approach.
As a Sabres fan, I sit and watch, thinking of how dull the overall experience is in Buffalo. Obviously, the major issue stems from teams lack of success which makes it tough for any fan. But even so, back when the arena opened in 1997, it felt like Buffalo’s presentation was vastly ahead for its time.
Sabretooth use to repel from the ceiling, the Buffalo blew steam when we scored, the visual presentation use to be far more creative. Since then, Buffalo has just been doing the same things as when it started while the rest of the league has passed the Sabres by.
In the upcoming year or two, the arena itself should be going over a needed makeover, so that should help address some of the major things like broken cup holders, old stained seats, lighting, the concourse size etc.
What are some ways Sabres could improve the overall fan experience? Here are some ideas:
Return of the Mad Hatters or a Blue Collar Crew Zone
Back when the arena opened, the Sabres had a promotion called the “Mad Hatters Club” and all the fans in the 300’s got fun plastic hard hats, and from there, had some cool cheers they could do. Expand this by a million. Make this into a full-on thing and have the fans vote a player from the past who is the Blue Collar Legend to be honored for the season. That player could sit in the section a game or two a month and help lead the fans in cheers. Sabres fans are nostalgic for the lunch bucket players who represented the cities mindset well.
Find A Way To Make A True Fan Tailgate
Buffalo has some of the best tailgating in the NFL. Why are the Sabres sitting back to not make some dynamic pre-game fan experience. The Party in the Plaza was a success and should be brought back more often. Create a pregame party that makes fans want to check it out before. In Las Vegas they have a DJ, dancing, and music before the game starts.
— Lauren Hall (@LaurenHall) October 5, 2017
The Sabres should not limit that to two games a year (the opener and closer). With all the recent construction downtown, there are plenty of options to eat, but I guarantee many fans would be willing to check out some pre-game festivities.
Create A Better Opening Pre-Anthem
Visually, the Sabres actually do not have a bad display with how it looks and with some further improvement, it could be even better. Some markets have either a fan or famous person in town to rev the crowd up before the game with a horn, bell, or other noisemaker. This would be a really good way to get the environment going and you could make something that is very Buffalo attached to it, perhaps you raise a chicken wing into the sky or have an LED Buffalo race around the arena. Be more creative and embrace the fun with this.
Sabres History Museum
When the Sabres moved into the arena they actually had more displays on the team’s history than they do now. The main concourse has far more ad placement that took over some of the history. Dedicate a portion of the arena to a true museum of the team’s past, which is quite nice even without a Stanley Cup. Show replicas of Hasek’s MVP awards and Vezina trophies. Have a replica bench where kids can sit and take pictures with images of Sabres next to them. Have highlight videos available to watch of great moments. Have a uniform history on display etc.
Whatever the Sabres do, some of the ideas may be great while others may not work. But embrace the effort and embrace the fact that sports are supposed to be fun. Regardless of the performance on the ice, do things that allow fans of all ages to have fun and remember a positive experience.
For a while now, teams have been putting their best foot forward to make the fan experience memorable and dynamic. It is time for the Sabres to catch up.