Little Caesars Arena – Detroit Red Wings
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Mr. I’s Vision
It’s hard to imagine that an $863 million construction project is only the beginning of an urban development goal, but the Little Caesars Arena is just that. The District Detroit, a 50 block neighborhood filled with entertainment venues, restaurants, bars, shopping and housing developments, hopes to revitalize a part of Detroit that has long been filled with vacant and decaying buildings, and was a symbol of the city’s decline.
Mike Ilitch, the founder of Little Caesars Pizza and the longtime owner of the Red Wings, has long envisioned a revitalized midtown neighborhood that connected with the downtown area. He invested over a billion dollars of his own money to fulfill this vision. Unfortunately, Ilitch passed away in February of 2017 and was not able to see the completion of the Little Caesars Arena.
The Red Wings are one of the National Hockey League’s legendary Original Six franchises, joining the NHL in 1926 as the Detroit Cougars. The team has won eleven Stanley Cups, and 72 Hockey Hall of Famers have spent time in the Motor City during their careers.
Little Caesars Arena will be the fourth home for the Red Wings franchise. The team played their first season across the Detroit River at the Border Cities Arena in Windsor, Ontario. In 1927, the team’s new home, the Olympia Arena, was completed and the Wings played there until 1979. During the 1979-80 season the team moved to the Joe Louis Arena on the Detroit waterfront.
Food & Beverage 5
As is the case in most new arenas built today, an emphasis has been placed on the dining experience at Little Caesars Arena.
A particular focus of the concession experience at Little Caesars Arena are the street level restaurants which line the main concourse of the arena. District Market bills itself as “restaurants within a restaurant.” Visiting fans can sample from Sugar and Brew (coffee and pastries from Zingerman’s), Mex N Go (burritos and tacos) or a large grill that offers sausage sandwiches, hot dogs, and a Moroccan Lamb and Fig sandwich.
Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit features local beers and a menu described as “classic Detroit and Southern-influenced dishes.” Mike’s Pizza Bar, a tribute to Mike Ilitch, features artisan-style pizzas. Sports & Social Detroit is a sports bar featuring classic bar food.
For those fans who would rather remain inside the arena, there are plenty of choices featuring all the standard arena fare. Classics offers hot dogs, brats, popcorn and nachos. The Coop offers chicken tenders and other items. Red Wing fans will also frequent Detroit House for burgers and Butcher and Barrel for sausages. Of course, there are Little Caesars Pizza stands located throughout the facility.
For one of the more unique items at Little Caesars Arena, the 313 Grill Company offers a half pound hot dog wrapped in bacon, deep fried and topped with pepper jack cheese, fried salami and pickled eggs.
Visiting fans will find a nice variety of beer at Little Caesars Arena. National brands including Budweiser, Bud Light and Labatt’s Blue can be found. Craft beer fans will be pleased to find selections including Bell’s, Goose Island and Founders’ All Day IPA. Coca-Cola products are featured for those not wishing to partake in adult beverages.
A great feature of the concession experience at Little Caesars Arena is that the concessions on the upper concourse offer the same variety as the larger lower concourse.
A detailed map of Little Caesars Arena concessions can be found here.
Detroit hockey fans like to refer to their city as “Hockeytown,” and they are indeed some of the most dedicated, vocal fans in the country. While the team’s recent struggles on the ice have dampened attendance and enthusiasm at Little Caesars Arena, this is still one of the best atmospheres in the NHL.
While the fans in Detroit don’t need a lot of help to get into the action on the ice, there are many things to see and do here at Little Caesars Arena, and lots of distractions for the casual fan.
The exterior of Little Caesars Arena is designed to evoke memories of the old Olympia Arena with an old school warehouse feel, similar to Ford Field. The interior has a completely different feel. There are many nods to the Red Wings’ history, with memorabilia exhibits, statues honoring Wings greats and interactive displays. Even the manhole covers on the concourse are decorated with the names of Wing and Piston greats.
Central to the game day experience here includes the largest seamless center hung scoreboard in the world. A total of 45 LED displays feature more than 13,500 square feet and more than 16.5 million LEDs are installed around the Little Caesars Arena. These displays are located throughout the interior and exterior of the building, and allow fans to be connected to the game even when outside of the seating area.
Little Caesars Arena is located in a developing neighborhood known as “The District Detroit.” Consisting of 50 city blocks, including the area around Comerica Park, Ford Field and the Fox Theater, developers hope to see this area fill with bars, nightclubs and restaurants and become a destination within the city of Detroit. While the area around the baseball park and football stadium has seen some development over the years, Little Caesars Arena is literally located on the wrong side of the tracks across Interstate 75, in an area filled with many vacant and dilapidated buildings. At the moment there is little surrounding the arena besides parking garages and multiple construction projects. Plans are in place for several entertainment and commercial developments, as well as at least six residential developments to be built in the area around Little Caesars Arena.
District Detroit would represent the culmination of the Ilitch family’s 30-year commitment to enlivening downtown Detroit. The renovation of the Fox Theatre and the building of Comerica Park were early pieces of this project.
Official figures have the Red Wings filling the Little Caesar’s Arena to 100% capacity thus far in its inaugural season, but the eyeball test tells a vastly different story. Wide swaths of empty seats can be seen at all games. Stadium Journey attended a weekday game at the end of January, and close to a third of the seats in the arena were empty. Red Wings fans, who have long enjoyed a reputation as some of the most dedicated in the league, stay home and leave early in droves.
Those fans who do fill Little Caesar’s Arena represent Detroit well. These fans are amongst the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable in the league. Even in a half-empty arena, these fans create a lively home ice advantage for the Red Wings.
Little Caesars Arena is located in a downtown Detroit neighborhood labelled “The District.” The arena is located across Interstate 75 from Comerica Field and Ford Field. While the neighborhood has a growing number of things to do in the vicinity, and is easily accessed by both car and public transportation, the hockey arena is literally on “the wrong side of the tracks,” and does not enjoy the easy access that its football and baseball brethren enjoy. Getting to and from Little Caesars Arena requires navigating several one-way streets to get to the nearby highways, and getting in and out of this neighborhood can take quite a while. It is hoped that businesses will spring up around the arena, but for now, there is little in the immediate vicinity of the facility. Detailed driving directions to Little Caesars Arena can be found here.
Little Caesars Arena boasts wide concourses, numerous concession stands and plenty of restrooms. It is easy to navigate your way around the arena. Seating consists of comfortable padded stadium seats. The upper level is steeply pitched, which provides excellent views of the action, but upper rows have obstructed views of the scoreboard and rafters. All seats feature cup holders, which are located at floor level, making them easy to trip over when trying to make your way to your seats.
Return on Investment 3
Red Wings tickets start at $40 for end zone seats in the upper level and max out at $135 for seats on the glass at center ice. Be warned that if purchasing upper level seats, seats in rows eight and above have obstructed views of the scoreboard and rafters due to the presence of the gondolas on either side of the arena.
The Labatt Blue Club features two levels of seating with unique vantage points of the action on the ice, including bar stool seating and a birds-eye view from atop the club. Located on the north end of the arena, the Labatt Blue Club is themed with Red Wing and Piston memorabilia. Priced at $65, these tickets include $10 of concessions credit.
Tickets to all Red Wings games are sold through Ticketmaster, which will jack up the prices a bit through their ever-present service fees.
Deals are offered for selected games which include two upper deck tickets and concession credit for $99.
Olympia Development operates 32 parking facilities within a ten minute walk of Little Caesars Arena. Prices start out at $20 and max out at $40, with better bargains to be found by those willing to walk a little. More information on parking in the District Detroit can be found here.
An extra point is awarded for the massive theater organ installed at Little Caesars Arena. Painted in the Wings’ red and white colors and featuring the team’s classic winged wheel logo, the organ was included in the design of the arena at the insistence of Mike Ilitch.
Another extra point is awarded for the interactive displays located throughout the concourse where most fans can find them, and not hidden away on the suite levels like in so many other facilities. Fans can use these kiosks to explore Red Wings history, get information on current players, Wing legends and more.
The Detroit Spirit Murals on the exterior of Little Caesars Arena deserve another extra point. Featuring Detroit icons from Isiah Thomas and Gordie Howe to Aretha Franklin and Eminem, these murals line the Sproat Street entrance.
Be sure to check out the manhole covers that line the concourse. Some of the greatest Red Wing and Piston players in their histories are honored in a Hollywood Walk of Fame fashion.
Other historic touches, such as the original signage from Olympia Stadium and the statues of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio from Joe Louis Arena, deserve yet another extra point.
In Little Caesars Arena, Detroit has a worthy entry in the stadium arms race. Mixing classic Detroit architecture with modern stadium amenities, it can instantly be considered among the best arenas in the National Hockey League. Unfortunately, it feels like Detroit hockey fans have been slow to warm to the Red Wings’ new home, whether due to cost, access, or the struggling on-ice product. Time will tell if the Little Caesars Arena will help to fulfill Mike Ilitch’s dream of renewing and enlivening Midtown Detroit, but for now, the project is off to a promising start.
Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
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