Maverik Center – Utah Grizzlies
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Hockey Has a Future in Utah
Not many arenas in the United States can claim to be Olympic venues. One that can is Maverik Center (formerly The E Center) in West Valley City, Utah. When the Winter Olympics came to Salt Lake City in 2002, Maverik Center was the primary home for hockey, including Canada’s historic gold-medal win over the United States.
Since it opened in 1997, Maverik Center’s primary tenant has been the Utah Grizzlies, currently of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) after stints in the International Hockey League and American Hockey League.
Food & Beverage 5
It’s fair to say that most people expect “minor league” food in a minor league establishment. The quality and variety at Maverik Center blow those expectations out of the water.
The stand you’ll see most is “Center Ice,” a mix of standard fare and unique offerings. The high-profile items include a Shrimp Basket ($7.25), a Chicken Tender Basket, Bacon Western Cheeseburger or Tuscan Chicken Sandwich ($6.75) and a Grilled Cheese Burger ($6).
You have two choices for nachos (“Wasatch Mountain” – $5; Supreme – $7) or fries (Regular – $3.50; Garlic – $4) and three for hot dogs (Jumbo or Corn Dog – $3; Chicago Dog – $4). The rest of the menu includes churros ($3 – Large; $1.75 Small), popcorn ($4 Regular; $5 Large), soft pretzels ($3.75) and candy ($3).
“Center Ice” also features two non-food items I’ve never seen sold at a sporting event before: aspirin and earplugs, each available for $3.
When the Grizzlies franchise first arrived from Denver in 1995, rabid hockey fans regularly filled EnergySolutions Arena. When the Grizzlies clinched the IHL’s Turner Cup that season, 17,381 fans (including myself) set a minor league hockey attendance record.
Despite steady fan support early on in the new digs, the club fell on hard financial times, which led to a suspension of its 2005-06 season. When the AHL franchise was bought and moved to Cleveland, a new ECHL incarnation of the Grizzlies were brought in.
When I went to a game about two years ago, the crowd was a shell of its former self. Even on a weekend, the building was only about one-quarter full. I was convinced the “demotion” had taken its permanent toll.
This time around, however, the place was packed on a Wednesday. The PA announcer said it was one of the largest Wednesday crowds in Maverik Center’s history, and it showed. The crowd was as passionate as I remembered during the Grizzlies’ glory days, perhaps in part due to a natural rivalry with that night’s opponent, the Las Vegas Wranglers. The improvement in quality of play has helped, but the organization has also made great strides in community involvement to bring fans in. More on that later.
West Valley City is perhaps Utah’s most diverse community, which means you can find a good variety of ethnic restaurants without much effort. One of the most recent ethnic eateries to be built near Maverik Center is Greek Souvlaki (2192 W, 3500 S; 0.4 miles away). The namesake dish, souvlaki (shish-kebob) is nice in chicken or pork, but I always go for the gyro with red sauce. A gyro combo with fries or rice and a medium soft drink goes for about $8, which might seem steep until you take that first bite.
On Decker Lake Drive, where Maverik Center is located, there are a handful of fast-casual establishments. The best of these is Costa Vida, an exploding Fresh-Mex chain (3312 S. Decker Lake Dr., 0.3 miles away). I usually go for a Grilled Steak Quesadilla (around $8), but the most popular items are giant burritos (around $7), especially those filled with sweet pork. Be sure to get it “enchilada style,” meaning the burrito is bathed in sauce and cheese and baked. It’s about a dollar more, but the added flavor is fantastic.
Hockey fans, much like the sports they support, are a unique breed. Both the sport and its fans take pride in this uniqueness, and Grizzlies fans are no different. When the house is full, as it was during my visit, there is a constant buzz throughout the game. Goals or fights brought the crowd to a new level, especially during the game-deciding shootout.
Fans were particularly eager to follow the lead of the mascot, Grizzbee, the “MVB” (Most Valuable Bear).
The fans have a handful of great original cheers. As the national anthem wraps up, fans declare this “the home of the GRIZZLIES!” When an opponent’s time in the penalty box ends, the exchange goes like this:
PA Announcer: “The Wranglers are back at full strength.”
Crowd: “And they STILL SUCK!”
The bathrooms are fine, with plenty of space to move around (or wait in line), but you need a bit of luck if you need a stall rather than a urinal in the men’s room. All the bathrooms I saw had only two stalls, which could cause uncomfortable delays if crowded.
Admission to the large parking lot surrounding Maverik Center is $6. Entrances/exits are somewhat limited, which can result in a lengthy exit depending on your spot. Parking at the handful of nearby restaurants and walking to Maverik Center is publicly discouraged and done at one’s own risk, as there is a significant police presence at each game.
Return on Investment 4
The boon of recent support for the club makes this score as high as it is. In addition to the big crowd at the game I attended, the next home game brought 10,700 fans to Maverik Center. Filling the house makes any sporting event better, but particularly a sport like hockey. The club is making strides to keep improving the experience, as I will touch on in my extras.
One necessary improvement is a new video board. The same two boards (one on an end, one hanging over the ice, but with only one screen) have been in place since the building opened, and the quality leaves something to be desired. Surely the Grizzlies are striving to be thrifty, but the boon from recent big crowds should hopefully build enough revenue to make something happen.
One point for the community tie-ins that can make your ticket a valuable coupon. Lots of teams place a coupon on the back of your ticket, but the Grizzlies take things further with some great deals. The best is an $11.99 oil change from Firestone if the Grizzlies make at least 25 saves, which they did on this night.
One point for the post-game fan survey. I’ve seen teams reach out to fans in surveys before, but mostly in e-mails with no offer for compensation (other than an improved future experience). Several times during the game, fans were invited to take a survey afterward with the promise of two free tickets after completion. I went to the designated area when the game ended and found a room stocked with surveys, pencils and fans. The survey touched on both overall experience and the effectiveness of in-arena advertising. About 10 minutes later, I walked out with two free passes in hand. With only two more regular season home games left after my visit, the team sweetened the deal by making the tickets valid during playoff games.
One point for the attentive and fast-to-respond event staffers. Anytime a puck left the ice, a staffer was in the area within seconds to make sure all in the area were OK. To further protect fans, staffers at each portal are instructed to make fans wait until a stoppage in play before letting them walk down to their seat. It’s a small thing, but one that shows the Grizzlies and their employees want to protect their customers.
I hope the boon of fan support for Grizzlies hockey continues. In revitalizing the arena with its name change, Maverik has also boosted the demeanor of fans and players alike. As I said earlier, I was heartbroken at my 2008 experience by how far support for the franchise had fallen. Now, the future is hopeful and bright for many years of great games at Maverik Center.
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