Detroit – Daughter and father, Katie and Robin Rivard of Farmington Hills, had not been to a Red Wings game since Katie, now a third-grade teacher, was a young girl.
She accompanied her father then, too.
As they settled into their seats in the last row of Little Caesars Arena, high above the ice where Jimmy Howard dutifully scraped the goal crease with his skates while his Red Wings teammates flew by during warmups Friday, the Rivards said they were pleased and excited by the view.
Satisfied with her choice for a Christmas gift to her dad, despite her concerns about the remoteness of the seats, Katie said it worked out.
“I think it looks great,” she said.
“I got the cheap tickets on a teacher’s budget and we have a great view, so I can’t complain.
“It was something I wanted to get for him, for Christmas,” Rivard said. “But I was a little worried about where we’d be sitting.”
The Rivards and others who sit up high in Little Caesars Arena say they love their seats and the sight angles for the Red Wings’ game. The architects and developers say they designed Little Caesars Arena that way.
Stacking the individual levels of seating strategically on top of one another, with some overhangs, as they rise precipitously from the ice level, kept all of the seats closer to the ice.
The Red Wings and their architect say that all but about 400 of the seats in Little Caesars Arena are closer to the game than in any other arena on the National Hockey League. Only in the Canadiens’ venue, the Bell Centre in Montreal, are the remaining 400 seats closer.
The stacked design allowed the Red Wings to fulfill two essential desires for building their new home: a densely-packed wall of fans just beyond the glass to intimidate the opposition and improved sightlines for spectators.
Fans lingering on the concourse and in the clubs and no-shows mean empty seats have mostly limited the wall-of-fans effect, except in recent games against Rangers and Penguins when a significantly more seats contained people. But it clearly will work out once the Red Wings are a better team again and fans are familiar enough with the ancillary attraction of Little Caesars Arena to prefer watching hockey.
As for the sightlines and affording spectators more intimate contact with the games, even folks in the last row say they are happy. Interviews with a few dozen fans since the start of the season reveal the lion’s share laud the new view.
“It’s just an amazing arena,” Robin Rivard said.
“So, it’s been a long time, but we had the same seats at Joe Louis Arena and it was like you were sitting in another arena compared to this. You were so much farther away.”
Pausing to take in the view and looking down at the ice, Rivard said it is easy to see how the interior design accomplished the intended goals.
“It’s awesome,” he said.
Mike Brevoort of Wixom said he attended a lot of games at Joe Louis Arena and often sat up high, including the last row. He sat up top, again, at Little Caesars Arena.
“This is my first game here,” Brevoort said. “It’s amazing.
“Oh yeah, you’re much closer here!
“And I think the seats are really nicer. They now have cup holders and they are a little wider.
“I just had my pizza.”
The seats in the top rows range from $40 to $55 and climb to $65 for some club seating. They are occasionally available from ticket brokers for significantly less.
To the extent some dissent from the fond appraisals from the views, a clear minority of fans say they find the dramatic height a detraction, or at least a little disconcerting.
“I feel like I am in the nose bleed seats,” said Robert Wonders, who traveled from Indiana for his first live Red Wings game, celebrating his wife Shirley’s birthday with about two dozen family and friends.
Ushers said that occasionally fans will mention their fear of heights and the approach the last, top rows.
“I understand we are closer, but someone had to tell me that and I had to sit here for a while,” said Seth Jacoby of Bloomfield Hills.
“I am still getting used to it a little bit. I am used to The Joe, and this really feels a lot higher. But I also get it, that it’s closer.
“I guess I’m just a little stuck on the higher right now.”
The logic in the design
After three periods of play, Jacoby said he still found the height a bit disconcerting. But he said his awareness of the closeness to the ice increased as the game went on.
“I guess my problem is I want it all, right? I want to be closer and lower, and I want it cheaper,” Jacoby said, mustering a sarcastic tone.
“No, listen, I think they did a nice job. I get it.”
In this case, one of the “they” is the architect Ryan Gedney, of HOK, a Missouri firm and leader in sport venue design for more than 30 years.
One of the key purposes of the design of the interior of Little Caesars Arena, Gedney said, is “to embellish that sense of intimacy from above.”
“When we started the design process, the Ilitches really had a strong motivation to preserve a lot of the things that they remembered about some of the older hockey venues in terms of seating,” he said.
HOK made significant use of sharply-elevating rows of seats, stacked levels and overhangs to keep the bowl tight.
“In today’s kind of modern venues, it’s more challenging to preserve those qualities when you’re tasked with infusing what has become a robust and diverse array of premium-seating product,” Gedney said. “It’s a Swiss watch, as many have talked about, of balancing those various components of sidelines, steepness, scoreboard, all of these things we need people to be able to see comfortably.”
Tom Bullock of Livonia said the high, close sight angle is exactly what he sought in the new building.
“I was reading about and hearing people talk about it, and what I like about it is that you are right above the action, looking down,” said Bullock, who played youth hockey. “At The Joe, we were farther back up here and, sure, it seemed a little lower I guess.
“But then, that angle is flat. You look out across the players, instead of down from up over them.
“It’s so much easier to see how the play develops this way. It’s so much better for watching defensive coverage, zone exits and entries, carrying the puck through the neutral zone.
“I mean, you really get to see the attack and the defense unfold right under you. To me, it’s just way better.”
Robin Rivard agreed with the high-and-over, rather than lower-and-flat analysis.
“I think it is a little higher,” he allowed. “But you’re much closer because of the angles. I look forward to it, because you are able to see everything.
“Because, at Joe Louis, the angle was such that you could not see the whole action. It was like this,” Rivard said, moving his hand up to the level of his chest and stretching it out in a flattening motion.
“I like it better this way, the way they have it now.”