April 11, 2009 - Trenton, New Jersey
Oh boy, not another arena named after a bank! Yes, and in New Jersey to boot. There are few things I enjoy less than travelling to the Garden State, yet my Elmira Jackals were in a first round playoff matchup with the Devils, and I had never been to Sovereign Bank Arena, so what is an arena website guy to do? Suck it up and drive to enemy territory that's what. I was dreading driving to Trenton due to the city's "reputation", yet was pleasantly surprised when I got there. The SBA is a 10 year old facility in the middle of Trenton, although not really in downtown. It is surrounded by parking lots on both the north and south sides, and there are pelnty of cops around to provide security. Heck- even the drive through the neighborhoods approaching the building was not even scary. I did find it odd that when I parked in the parking lot that noone was out of their vehicles yet, despite being there only about 10 minutes before the gates opened. I decided to go solo and walked around to the other corner of the arena where the box office was and get my ticket. The building has a nice brick facade on the exterior, and I am pretty sure they were going for a Colonial look. It does give a little different look than your average modern arena. The arena grounds are nicely kept with nice sidewalks and landscaping around the building. The edges of the property and parking lots are lined with nice wrought iron fences in some spots.
After securing my upper level ticket for $13.50 I waited around by the box office as everyone else in the parking lot finally got out of their cars and entered the building. Once inside there is a wide, rather bright concourse which runs around the entire building. There are large arching windows which look out from the concourse at various points, and there is the average variety of food stands. As expected though when combining arena food prices with New Jersey prices that everything was astronomically priced. They did have a good variety though as there was even a Famous Dave's Barbecue stand. As the Devils don't draw very well about half of the concession stands were not open. There was a large merchandise table right inside the entrance, and they had the season ending sales going on. The arena does a good job tying in a bit of local history as there is a Mercer County Wall of Fame which has photos of the areas most famous citizens, including Orson Welles, and Alexander Hamilton.
Once inside the arena itself you find a modern 7,500 seater (7,605 to be exact) which is nicely laid out. The angle of most of the seats is steep enough to provide a good view. There are actually 3 seating levels, although my biggest peeve with the place is that the upper level seats on the sides are considered part of the luxury or premuim seats, and you have to go up a special staircase to access them. Needless to say at this game they were empty as the announced attendance of 1,700 was mostly scattered throughout the lower bowl. I moved around a bit as there were plenty of good places to watch the game from, despite not having access to the upper middle seats. The seats are all the modern plastic type, and are all forest green. There is a nice new video board at center ice, which has a very clear picture. They do try to get too fancy with it though as the graphics and team logos are used for each team, and the scoreboard seems cluttered when trying to look quickly to just see the score, shots or penalty time left. All the way around the top are various luxury suites, which again were mostly empty for this game. The sound system is good, and they at least try to make the game presentation decent, with flames on the scoreboard before the player intros, etc. Atop the 3 levels of seating is a pressbox on one side, which looks very large and modern. (I am not a press guy, but it looks nice!).
The atmosphere was the biggest downer here, as no matter how hard the fans try you just can't get 1,700 people to make a 7,500 seat arena seem loud. Nothing against the Trenton fans, in fact the ones I had spoken with seem very cool. It is just that there are not enough of them. The fans that were there were rowdy and intense, and heckled the Jackals, including Chaz Johnson, (a guy you love to have on your team but hate to play against), with merciless taunts which I found impressive. I am going to go out on a limb here and state that it is the New Jersey Devils organization which is hurting the attendance, either through lack of promotion, or through their lack of concern for the fans here. Why do I say that? Well I also attended a game in Lowell a couple months before this game, and saw the same thing at a Lowell Devils game- empty seats. I had gone to Lowell Lock Monsters games before the Devils took over, and although hardly full there was much more fan support. In Trenton, the Titans, who occupied the building before the Devils took over, used to draw decently well. It appears that the parent Devils are content to simply have a place for their minor league system to play while putting forth the least effort possible to get their fans excited about the games. I would be interested in any feedback from Lowell or Trenton fans regarding this. Either way, despite my disdain for the state of New Jersey in general I had a good time at the Sovereign Bank Arena as it is a good example of the modern buildings which were erected in the 1990's. Despite my Jackals losing to the Devils I was glad I made the trip. I just hope a bunch more hockey fans take a liking to the building as I can't imagine a team surviving too long on the average of 2,500 people which the Devils have been drawing. Check this place out if you have a chance.
Other information about the Trenton Devils is available at: Devils home
Other information about the Sovereign Bank Arena is available at: Arena home
More photos of the Sovereign Bank Arena are available Here