Michigan residents’ $300m for Red Wings arena buying slightly closer seats, plus lasers

This week’s Sports Illustrated has a long profile of the Detroit Red Wings‘ under-construction new arena, which almost entirely consists of quotes from team execs and the arena’s designers, so take with a huge grain of salt. It does include a few tea leaves we can try to read, though, so let’s get to it:

The design starts with putting fans as close to the ice as possible. “We brought in our general manager, Ken Holland, to find which was the most intimidating place we play,” Tom Wilson, CEO of team and arena owner Olympia Entertainment, tells SI.com. “Without question it is Montreal. There is no light. No open concourses. Just a sea of red jerseys screaming at you in French. We went there to see it and, my gosh, they are on top of you.”

George Heinlein, HOK Sports principal, tells SI.com that they designed Little Caesars with Montreal’s Bell Centre’s vertical rise, but with added legroom. “It is about the steepness of the seating bowl,” Heinlein says. “But also the proximity of those fans to the rink.”

This is garbage: Since a hockey arena’s seating starts, by definition, at the edge of the rink, the only way to get fans (in the first deck, at least) closer to the ice is to reduce legroom. This is a tradeoff, obviously — less legroom is bad for the people sitting in those seats, but good for the fans sitting in the rows behind them — but unless HOK has reinvented geometry, they can’t accomplish both at once.

While Detroit’s current Joe Louis Arena has about 40% of seats in the lower bowl, Little Caesars flips the script, putting about 10,500 of the total 19,600 seats in the lower bowl, but with the last row in Little Caesars still able to fit within the last row of Joe Louis.

“More seats in the lower bowl” is actually HOK dogma at this point, apparently because team owners think they can charge more for a seat in the last row of a lower bowl than for a seat in the front row of an upper bowl, though they might be equally good for seeing the game. The last row being no farther from the ice than in the old arena is more promising, if that’s indeed what “fit within the last row of Joe Louis” means.

The baddest bowl eliminates the trendy concept of opening up the concourses to the rink. Instead of creating sightlines through the entire venue, the Red Wings wanted to focus on creating noise, eliminating any holes where noise or energy could escape. “We don’t want to blow out concourses, we want to contain all the energy in the seating bowl,” Heinlein says. “It is a throwback in that regard.”

This sounds like marketing gibberish — “we’re eliminating this thing that everyone has been claiming is one of the best things about new sports venues, and claiming it’s ‘throwback’ and trendy for not being trendy” — and it is, but it’s also potentially kind of cool. One staple of stadium and arena design the last couple of decades has been a large gap between decks, so that fans in concession areas can see the game while waiting on line for food. If you’ve ever been at one of these buildings, though, you know that this usually means “see maybe one corner of the game, or more likely a thin strip of the crowd that is watching the game, while peering around everyone standing around the concourse,” which is entirely useless, especially since there are typically TV monitors everywhere showing you the actual game.

Getting rid of that gap, though, enables the designers to move the entire deck above maybe 10-20 feet down and forward, which is a huge benefit to the people actually sitting in those seats, and could help explain that “worst seat is no worse than in Joe Louis” claim. I’m tentatively optimistic, anyway.

Connecting the interior of Little Caesars with the Via and surrounding neighborhood by blurring the entry plaza concourse with the external streets of the district, Wilson says the space offers diversity and will encourage fans to return over and over to experience new spaces. “The Via is a very active space,” Wilson says. “We want to change the way people come to games. Come at 6 (p.m.), have your choice of sports bars, a market house, a spaghetti house and have a full evening. At the end of the game, there are tons of experiences to still have and discover.”

In other words, the Via (a glassed-in concessions concourse that is meant to feel like it’s “outdoors”) is a cross between traditional concessions areas and an outdoor space controlled by the team like Eutaw Street at Camden Yards or Yawkey Way at Fenway Park. Nothing new, in other words — it’s just team-controlled restaurant space by another name.

Using a 12-laser projection system, the Red Wings can animate the arena, projecting full motion video and images on the arena’s “forward-thinking” metal-panel skin all the way through the Via. “There is nothing like it in Vegas, Disney or Times Square,” Wilson says. “It is an immersive sort of experience that everybody is going to enjoy.”

Dear lord, that sounds awful. Unless you like the stimulation overload of Vegas and Times Square, which I guess lots of people do, but if I count among “everybody,” I expect I’ll be able to personally disprove that last statement.

And that’s more than enough time to spend on a team PR statement. Let’s close with a reminder of the $300 million in public money this is costing Michigan residents, since SI somehow forgot to mention it.


6 comments on “Michigan residents’ $300m for Red Wings arena buying slightly closer seats, plus lasers

  1. While a lot of it is gibberish, I do like the fact that they aren’t creating those unnecessary gaps. I’ve been the biggest critic of Sacramento’s arena. Small market yet they not only have 2 levels of luxury suites but also have a gap that is basically pushing the upper deck fans into Staples Center territory. Staples has 3 levels of luxury suites so 2 levels and the unnecessary gap are more or less the same thing from an upper deck standpoint.

  2. I’m assuming that by “closer” they mean horizontally. Since JLA had no raised upper deck and was just one big bowl with an aisle halfway up, any overhang will put the last row closer than at JLA. That it seems to have a few hundred less seats and won’t have the random extra seats tucked into corners that JLA had probably helps too.

    However, given the two/three (I can’t tell from the vaportecture) levels of suites, and the necessary added steepness that that height will give the upper deck, I’d guess that the top row that is 5-10 feet closer horizontally will be 50 or so feet higher vertically. No other way to make it all add up.

  3. Sacramento & Golden State must be kicking themselves for putting massive windows in their new arenas….There will be so much energy escaping.

  4. And here I thought the reason that they don’t want to create open areas to the concourses (something we’ve been told time and again “new” arenas are required to achieve because old ones can’t be renovated to provide this) would be that they don’t want to cut back on the number of luxury suites to do so…

    HOK’s opinion on what is current or “vital” to any project appears as changeable as the weather…. big surprise…

  5. I wonder if the Red Wings and HOK Sports had any thoughts about the Pistons when designing the arena bowl? Does this design of the arena bowl have NBA standards and does it accommodate the Pistons should they decide to move into the new arena?