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Little Caesars Arena offers complete fan experience

DETROIT — “Wow!”

That was the first word that came to Cory Case’s brain when describing Little Caesars Arena. The Farmington native was one of nearly 20,000 people who experienced the first regular season game at LCA on Thursday, in what ended up being a 4-2 win for the Detroit Red Wings over the Minnesota Wild.

But the game took a backseat to the arena, as many fans left their seats during the later stages of the game to check out everything the shiny, new building has to offer.

“Place is pretty awesome,” Case told Wings Nation. “Didn’t really know what to expect. Definitely built around the fan, with the wide walkways, all the variety of food. Pretty cool experience.”

Anyone who visits LCA will agree with Case on the concourse area; the walk is a lot more enjoyable, not only because of the width but because of the second level, which spreads out the foot traffic. Food options and restrooms on both floors mean you’ll never have to go down to the first floor if you have a seat in a 200 section.

The arena features a solid mix of old and new, with the statues of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio that were brought from Joe Louis Arena, the original lettering from Olympia Stadium found on the fifth floor of The Joe and hung up inside LCA (except for the “O,” that had to be re-made), the banners depicting current Red Wings and Detroit Pistons and the 600-foot jewel skin that wraps around the concourse made up of hundreds of dimensional metal panels and is capable of showing game highlights.

A lot was made of the sight lines at LCA, with many saying there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Case and I sat in the gondola seats, which offered a bird’s-eye view of the game. Suspended above the lower bowl, you’re looking almost straight down at the action, as if you were playing a game of NHL 18.

The view was great for watching plays develop, but Case and I agreed, we didn’t quite get the experience of watching a hockey game live.

View from gondola seats
View from gondola seats of opening faceoff from Little Caesars Arena, Oct. 5, 2017. Photo by Tom Mitsos

“Awesome view, kinda felt detached from the game,” Case said. “Just doesn’t really have the sound around you. It was very easy to get distracted by fans around you because you are really detached. But the view is pretty awesome for watching plays develop. Easier to follow a puck up there than on TV.”

To me, it felt like watching a game from a suite. It’s a nice seat, and if you want a bit of privacy — and service with roaming beer carts at your disposal — you’ll get it in the gondola. However, if you want to be right in the heart of the action with the other screaming fans, you’re better off in a bowl seat.

From section 206, John Evans and Goldie Burkhart, both of Columbus, Ohio, said they enjoyed their view.

“We’re literally on the last row, and we can make out every player,” Evans said.

Walking into the arena, I expected a bit of a playoff atmosphere. While there were excitement and buzz for the new arena, it didn’t feel like a playoff game, which could be due to lowered expectations for the team this season.

Burkhart agreed.

“I don’t think it feels quite like a playoff game, but it’s pretty intense,” she said. “Everyone’s riled up. It’s a good time.”

As far as the food options go, it won’t be hard to find something that tickles your fancy. Of course, Little Caesars pizza can be found throughout the arena, but it also features Mike’s Pizza Bar, a tribute to the late Mike Illitch that features artisan-style pizzas; Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit restaurant, which features craft beers, craft cocktails and “classic Detroit and Southern-influenced dishes”; District Market, which has multiple food options, including Mexican, Moroccan and sausages; and Sports & Social Detroit, a sports and entertainment bar with typical bar food. Of course, if you want the simple hot dog and chips or nachos, you can get that, too.

Fans can access the four restaurants on nongame days, as well as game days. You don’t need a ticket to a game to get into the restaurants on game days, with entrances outside LCA.

However, with all the nice amenities that come with the new arena, there’s been controversy surrounding the $863 million price tag, $324.1 million of which was publicly funded.

Evans and Burkhart made the 3½-hour drive from Columbus to witness history. Evans said he walked into this experience with some skepticism.

Little Caesars Arena concourse. Oct. 5, 2017. Photo by Tom Mitsos

“I gotta preface the whole thing by saying I walked in with a bad taste in my mouth, knowing as much as I hate these arena financing deals that they do and that the state had to pony up everything,” he said. “Which is great, if you live in Detroit, but if you live in Kalamazoo, I’m sure you’re thrilled your tax dollars are going to pay for something like this.

“It feels a little sterile. The history is not there with it, but you can’t blame them for that. It felt like The Joe was a place the working man was welcome. In here, I feel like I gotta take my shoes before I walk in, you know?”

But while Evans isn’t thrilled with how the arena was financed, he did enjoy the attempt to honor history.

“There’s a lot to really like about it,” he said. “It’s not sweltering hot; you can actually walk through the concourse, especially on the second level.

“They brought over a lot of stuff. They got letters from Olympia, they got the statues from the original Joe, they’ve got all kinds of different memorabilia not just for the Red Wings, but for the Pistons, as well. There’s a lot to like that they put a genuine effort of not forgetting where everything came from.”

Evans and Burkhart attended the last game at Joe Louis Arena, a 4-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on April 9, and Evans said he was happy he was able to attend the first game at LCA, thanks to an early birthday present from Burkhart.

“This ended up being a nice historical bookend,” he said.

Burkhart said she was impressed with LCA.

“I thought it was pretty awesome, nicest arena I’ve ever been in,” she said. “And Nationwide (Arena) is really nice because it’s pretty new. But this just takes that and ups it by 10 levels.”

Before Thursday’s game, there was a red carpet walk for the players in the Chevrolet Plaza, an outside area adjacent to the arena that will be a perfect destination for playoff viewing parties with a gigantic viewing screen. For an early October game, the weather was perfect, with plenty of sun and temperatures in the low 70s.

Chevrolet Plaza, Oct. 5, 2017. Photo by Tom Mitsos

What I’m interested in seeing is how they plan to use this area in the winter. Heat lamps, possibly? Or will it be more like a college tailgate area where only the superfans brave the cold for a good time?

“I started to think this would be fantastic for something during the playoffs,” Evans said, “when everyone is fighting to get in, but plenty of people are still able to enjoy it out on the big screen without necessarily having to pay the premium to get in. Granted, it will be a while before they get back there, but that’s neither here nor there.”

One big issue I had with the arena was the speaker system. Sitting up in the gondola, the goal and in-between-whistle announcements were hard to hear, as they came over muffled and echoed.

Case agreed, saying it took away from the experience.

“I’d like to see them look into the audio,” he said. “A lot of echoes and muffle, hard to kind of make out. It sounded like they just didn’t have the sound right. Everything kinda clashed to the point where you couldn’t hear a single person talking when they were doing the intermission events.

“Other than that, I’d say they nailed it. It’s going to be a fun arena to go to for years.”

Evans and Burkhart, sitting in section 206, also commented on the poor speaker system.

“There’s this weird, screeching noise in the background,” Burkhart said. “I don’t know if that’s just in our area, but it’s really annoying. It sounds like a really loud vacuum the entire game.”

While the public financing didn’t sit well with Evans, he said LCA offers a great fan experience.

“Overall, it’s a bit to get used to,” Evans said. “If you walk in like me comparing everything to the Joe or the tax breaks that come with it, it may not be as enjoyable. But if you try to just look at it as a hockey experience, it’s probably going to be a great time.”