After thirteen years of being open for business, the Xcel Energy Center still gets the rave reviews as it did the very first day it opened.
In 2004, the arena was hailed by ESPN as the best stadium experience among all 122 major sports teams (the teams from the NHL, MLB, NFL, and NBA). Just last year, "The X" ranked 6th among all 122 teams, and was still number one, among the 30 teams in the NHL (the Pittsburgh Penguins were second to the Wild among NHL teams, and came in 12th overall).
The X is a museum to the game of hockey, as much as it is an actual arena where hockey is played. Everywhere you look inside, there is a piece of history related to Minnesota hockey on display. No other arena in the NHL can even come close to that. The building also includes an ice lodge (a log cabin themed area for on the glass season ticket holders), a lighthouse (which lights up when the Wild score), and all Minnesota High School Hockey Team's jerseys that hang from the suite level, giving it the ultimate Minnesota experience.
The arena is great for those who only can make it to a game once or twice a year. It has everything you would want from an arena made primarily for a hockey team.
But for those who are fortunate to get down to the arena several times a season, you start noticing things that could be better. These improvements are not necessarily needed at this time, but if the Wild want to continue their run as the best arena in the NHL, they should look into making these improvements.
Here are the five major improvements the Wild should make to Xcel Energy Center:
1. Scoreboard: Earlier this year, Team of 18,001 did a post on this topic. A ranking of all 30 scoreboards in the NHL were compiled, and The X's scoreboard came in 21st out of the 30 teams in the league. Now that the Florida Panthers just received money to get a new big screen in their arena, you can now put the Wild 22nd on that list. Compared to the top big screens in this league, the Wild have one that is small and simply out-dated (Most of the jumbotrons have been upgraded since 2006). When they show out of town games on the screen, you can't tell what the score is, who is on the ice, or where the puck even is. The game stats get crammed in on the smaller screens towards the top, and those screens just look like they are from the stone age. The score of the Wild game was pushed from those small screens at the top to the ribbon part of the scoreboard at the bottom. Modern boards are just simply bigger now, making replays, out of town highlights, and game stats easier to see.
2. Out of Town Scoreboard: This can probably fall under the scoreboard category too, but since it is separate from the main scoreboard, it will be treated as such. The out of town scoreboard, is rather laughable at Xcel Energy Center. Its almost something they didnt want to have, and decided last minute to have it, and shoved it in the corner. Currently, the out of town scoreboard is part of the ribbon boards that hang on the facing of the 200 level. There are two separate score areas on each ribbon board, but they are on the ends, rather shoved in while the advertisements dominate those ribbon boards. To improve, the team could put some out of town scoreboards up in the upper level corners, where there are blank walls behind all the raised platforms. Or, the team could simply switch up the layout of the existing ribbon boards on the 200 level, putting the out of town scores in the middle, while the advertisements get shoved to the ends (Yeah, that will never happen). Most fans dont really care for the out of town scoreboard until it gets late in the season, and playoff fates are on the line. So when the fans do need to see it, it should be more prominently placed.
3. Food: Last summer, the team did make some small improvements in the food department. They added some hot dish items to their menu, but the problem was, they only had it at one concession stand (The lower level corner). Otherwise, the food has remained the same over the years, and the quality has not gotten much better. The Wild have this whole "Taste of Hockey" marketing slogan going on, so maybe they should start rolling out more Minnesota and/or hockey related food items. They do have a nice selection of beer, but the price is very steep to get one (But what sporting venue doesn't have expensive beer prices?).
A bigger slap in the face here, is the fact that there is a huge untapped gold mine inside the arena, just waiting to be found. It was formerly called "Iron Range Grill" but it has since been renamed "Bud Light Blueline Bar". First of all, whoever decided to sellout the name of that place should be ashamed (or perhaps it goes to show that four straight years of no playoff games, took its toll on the financial books of this club). It had a nice reflection to a place where hockey is respected deeply and has a great tradition in this state. The inside of the BLBG has gone unchanged, and it still reflects that great tradition of Minnesota hockey. But to make this place more popular for fans, the team should add items to the food menu, that you can not find anywhere else in the arena (Anything on the menu in there, can literally be found at any other concession stand). Giving this place a unique feel to it would make it a hot spot for Wild fans before every game.
4. Fan Interaction: The Wild do have a lot of fan interaction during the game. It just needs to be better. Texting what player's iPod you want to hear, is not great fan interaction. Texting your vote for player of the game early in the third period, not great fan interaction (Honestly, the game is not over, so why would I care to vote for this in the freaking third period). Lets try texting for which play from the previous week or which prospect you are more looking forward to seeing, and seeing what fans have to say. Make these text your vote segments more hockey related.
A few years back, there was a trivia contest during intermission you could call to and punch in the correct answers on your phone. I dont exactly know what the winner got, but this is something they should really consider bringing back. That contest was replaced with matching games and name those famous people contests (facepalm). Honestly, we dont need that. Have a contest where everyone is involved. They do give away some nice prizes (Pizza, gift cards, etc) during the game, but you have to be sitting in the right row or seat to win.
5. Organist: When The X first opened, the organ was one of the better features of the arena. It gave a more classic feel to the rink. The organist (whos name I could not find), sat at his zamboni themed organ, on one of the four lofted stages in the arena, and played songs throughout the game. But in recent years, the amount of songs he plays has seemingly decreased, and the organist himself, has been moved into the pressbox leaving the zamboni to collect dust now. This makes little sense to have this great feature, but never use it. Bring him back out there, play more songs on the organ, and give the arena that classic feel once again.
As it was said before, these improvements dont need to be done at this time, but if the Wild want The X to stay number one, they should make these improvements real soon.