Itinerant Fan

BB&T Center

If you think hockey is a curious fit in South Florida, you’re far from alone. Many hockey fans have thought that for years, and the Florida Panthers franchise is seemingly under constant relocation watch. Years and years of crummy teams haven’t helped endear the franchise to the community, and attendance at their home rink, the BB&T Center, tends to catch the eyes of observers for all the wrong reasons.

But the Panthers have been working their way back to prominence, with a handful of competitive seasons and star players to their name in recent years, and the team’s fan base remains a boisterous one.

And the team does play in a nice arena on the edge of the Everglades, and it remains one of only 31 places in the U.S. and Canada where you can catch an NHL hockey game.

If you’re visiting South Florida you’ll have plenty of competition for your entertainment dollar, but if you’re a hockey fan there are plenty of good reasons why you’d want to trade in the sunshine for ice for just a few hours. 

For more on visiting South Florida, check out our Miami city guide.

The approach: Getting to BB&T Center

One challenge that the pursuit of watching hockey in South Florida presents is that the BB&T Center lies nowhere close to where most tourists hang out when they visit the region.

The arena is in the suburb of Sunrise (it’s not really a good sign when the arena’s own website contains a page called “Where is Sunrise?“), and it’s definitely suburban, with mostly homes and a giant mall, Sawgrass Mills, nearby. Look at the location on a map and you’ll quickly notice that on the other side of the Sawgrass Expressway from the arena is … nothing. The building is truly on the border of the Everglades.

If you’re going to the game, you’ll need to drive there; don’t even think about public transportation (and don’t be fooled by the existence of a “595 Express Bus” that picks up/drops off at BB&T Center — that line is meant for commuters and operates only in the daytime).

From Fort Lauderdale, take Interstate 595 west to NW 136th Avenue, then head north about a mile and a half — this route allows you to stay off the Sawgrass Expressway, a toll road. If you’re coming from Miami, allow yourself at least 45 minutes to make the trip without traffic.

As for parking, the worst-kept secret about attending a game at the BB&T Center is you don’t have to pay for parking if you don’t want to. Many, many fans just park across the street at the mall and walk over. (How do I know this? At the game I attended, Panthers vs. Canadiens, I counted no less than 10 cars in a small segment of the Sawgrass Mills parking lot with Quebec license plates.) 

Apparently attempts have been made over the years to control this practice and get people to pay to park in the arena’s lots (at a $20 rate for Florida Panthers games), but on the day we visited, it didn’t seem like anyone cared.

Center map
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The build-up: Things to do around BB&T Center

Well, if you want to park for free at the mall but don’t want to feel guilty about it, do a little shopping and/or eating at the mall before the game. (That’s what I did — I actually bought some clothes, so I feel like I justified my free parking grab.)

If you’ve ever been to a shopping center with “Mills” in its name, and there are quite a few around the country, Sawgrass Mills is basically the same — a huge complex of stores and restaurants, many of the chain variety, where you can entertain yourself for more than a few hours. So if you’re coming from a long way away, the mall could make it worth your while to show up a little bit early.

There are a couple other shopping and eating options a little farther away — for example, there’s an Ikea down the street — but if you’re a visitor to South Florida and looking for something more unique or touristy, well, you’re probably best off hanging out at the beach.

Press Pass Collectibles

BB&T Center Florida Pantheres

The ambiance: Watching a game at BB&T Center

BB&T Center is a nice building as arenas go. It has a strong reputation as a concert venue and is often the South Florida stop for a lot of big-name acts. As for Florida Panthers games, the aforementioned attendance problem has caused the team to curtain off parts of the upper deck to reduce capacity, which is an indication of how big it is.

When you enter the arena, you’re likely doing so via the main plaza, at the top of a set of stairs. The Panthers fill it with the usual promotional booths and interactive games.

Once inside, you’ll find wide concourses (and yeah, it’s not like there were huge crowds at this game, but they seemed wide enough that they’d be pretty spacious even with a sellout crowd) and a generally organized layout, with three food courts on each level (which means you aren’t ducking and darting through lines of people as you walk around). Other than a Tim Hortons coffee stand, you won’t find anything too adventurous among the concessions options.

My section, 318 in the upper deck, was right at center ice and pretty comparable to most arena upper decks — high, but not so far away that you can’t make out what’s going on. For this game, the section was filled mostly with Habs fans, many in large groups. They really made their presence known when Montreal scored the game’s first goal, to the dismay of the smattering of Panthers fans around.

Because I could, I wound up moving to a spot in a section behind one of the nets for the last two periods, and that felt higher (turns out that I was in a higher row because the previous section went only nine rows up due to the press box being just above). 

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    The Particulars

    Home Teams
    Florida Panthers

    1 Panther Pkwy.
    Sunrise, FL 33323

    Year Opened


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