Editor’s note: This story is part of the CDT’s Business Matters special section.
As the puck drops for each game at Pegula Ice Arena, the scene has been the same: A full arena with fans yelling full-throat for the Nittany Lions, making it one of the most intimidating college hockey arenas in the country.
For more than 50 consecutive games, the arena has seen a sellout for tickets, and only twice since the arena opened in 2013 has it not been sold out for men’s hockey games — although there are usually tickets available on the secondary markets.
However, there are only so many home games each season — 21 to be specific this season, including an exhibition game — while the arena itself is open nearly every day of the year. What happens with the arena on those 300-plus other days of the year, and what is in store for the future for the building?
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“There are a number of different things that continue to get discussion as it relates to driving business opportunities with the arena,” said Michael Cross, assistant athletic director for new business development who is heavily involved in bringing other events to the building.
As envisioned by Terry and Kim Pegula when they made the initial gift of $88 million, and an additional $14 million later, the arena has become a home for youth hockey in addition to the Penn State varsity and club programs. The arena hosted a couple tournaments in January, drawing teams from up and down the East Coast, and hosts a handful each year, though there are hopes to see more. The biggest event is during Penn State’s spring break in March, when a 32-team tournament hits town and both sheets of ice are used from dawn to nearly midnight.
Curling, sled hockey and special needs hockey also have taken over the ice.
“One of Mr. Pegula’s visions when he donated the money for the arena,” said Deborah Campbell, the arena’s assistant manager, “was that this would be not just for hockey but for the whole community and the region to have different events.”
The building also hosted its first NHL game last September, when the Minnesota Wild played the Buffalo Sabres, a team owned by the Pegulas. Cross said there are already talks to bring more NHL games in the future.
Cross also said they are exploring other revenue streams. The men’s program itself has actually been right around the break-even mark since moving in, but the staff is looking to maximize what it can get out of the building. They are exploring adding more retail space — perhaps more food vendors to join the Subway and Auntie Anne’s pretzels already there.
They also are looking at hosting more events on football weekends, such as renting out the club level for tailgate parties.
One other possible use in the future is holding a concert in the arena. While the acoustics in the building may be a bit of a problem, since it was designed to be loud and create as much of a home-ice advantage as possible, Campbell said they are exploring finding a cover to rent for the ice to accommodate floor seating and a stage.
Cross said concerts are not necessarily expected to be a frequent occurrence, but they are at least talking about the possibility.
“All you can do, when you haven’t done something before, is do some pilot testing,” Cross said. “Really hard to say we’re going to go full-bore and do two or three concerts a month. I don’t see that as a likely approach.”
Every spring, the main arena’s ice is melted and the building is used in other ways, including State College and Penn State graduations, a site for some Happy Volley volleyball tournament matches and even the Bellefonte Area High School prom.
They are hoping to see more groups, whether it is a one-time event or a frequent user, take advantage of the big building at the corner of University Drive and Curtin Road.
“We feel we’ve got the hockey down pretty well,” Campbell said. “Now we’re taking a look to see what other revenue streams we can bring in.”