Knight

London Knights

Arena Name: Budweiser Gardens
Capacity: 9,100
Built: 2002
Address: 99 Dundas St., London, Ontario, N6A 6K1
Telephone: (519) 681-0800
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
Franchise Date: 1965-66
OHL Championships: 4, in 2004-05, 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2015-16
Memorial Cup Championships: 2, in 2004-05 and 2015-16
Colours: Green, Gold, Black & White
Official Web Site: LondonKnights.com
Venue Web Site: BudweiserGardens.com
Former Arena: London Gardens

OHL

 Budweiser Gardens

Budweiser Gardens

 What's the Arena Like?

First Visit: October 11, 2002
CHL Arena: 4
OHL Arena: 4

In conversations with other people who run sports travel websites over the years (a group not unlike the Freemasons), the subject has often come up that the hardest thing to write about is your own hometown team. Whereas the act of going into a new city and arena, enjoying a game, and leaving with my impressions and my pictures never really changes, the Knights for me are different. I've been going to their games since the mid 1980's, first with my Dad, then with friends, and finally as a season ticket-holder. I've seen the team play, at a conservative estimate, 500 times, including my record-breaking 2004-05 season when I personally saw 66 of the 90 games they played. Yet writing about them is hard exactly because of the familiarity. Therefore, what follows below are my impressions not just of the experience of being a visiting fan, but being a hometown fan, writing about what has been a big part of my life for more than twenty years.

Since the Hunter brothers bought the team, the Knights have been transformed from a small-time operation into a big business, and there can be no greater symbol of the team's transformation than the sparkling, corporate Budweiser Gardens. The arena is essentially an NHL rink in miniature. The only comparable OHL arena is the Ottawa Civic Centre, but that building's "under the football stadium" character lends it an edge of being an afterthought to the football stadium upstairs, while the Gardens was designed purely for Knights' hockey. There is one lower bowl of 20 rows holding 6000, then a level of private suites, and then the upper deck with another 3000 which is "U" shaped. At the open end of the "U" is the standing-room section, which is highly recommended as it feels like you're leaning over the ice. There are also club seats in the lower bowl on the one side of the ice, which are little different from regular seats except for the service-in-your-seat concessions. While the food choices at the Ice House were either popcorn or hot dogs, new items at the including chicken nachos and fruit smoothies spoil the fans for choice.

From the outside the building is imposing: tall, handsome, and blending well into the neighbourhood. From the sidewalks outside the building looks absolutely huge. It's all done in a postmodern style of architecture with yellow brick, except for the corner of Talbot and Dundas Streets, where there is a preserved facade of a 19th century heritage building, the Talbot Inn. The Inn was once the epicentre of London's punk scene in the 1970's when it was called the Cedar Lounge, and acts from the Damned to Elvis Costello to the hometown Demics played the club. Now, all these years later, the bricks are finally seeing concerts again - the building has brought in nearly every big-name act currently touring since its opening. Upon entering one of the gates of the building you find yourself in a wide concourse area filled with concessions. The spacious concourse is among the league's widest and provides ample room to handle even the largest crowds. You enter the bowl down a long tunnel which opens into the full arena.

The first view of the Budweiser Gardens is stunning, and moreso if you've never been in an NHL building. The place feels massive, and to gaze around at the multitude of seats and the high ceiling is to feel intimidated by the sheer size of the place. There really isn't a bad seat, but the best seats in the building are in the front row of the upper deck, where you get a fabulous view of the ice without being too distant. The worst seats, if there are any, are near the bottom of the lower level. The angle of the seating is too shallow and it can be hard to see over the person in front of you, especially if you're a kid. Seats are dark moulded plastic but surprisingly, there's not much padding on them.

Team banners from the Knights and London Lightning basketball team adorn the rafters, though maddeningly as a Knights fan, the banners are incomplete and have been since 2002. The oldest banner hanging is the 1999 Western Conference Championship, though in the old London Gardens the team had banners from division titles in 1998, 1990 and 1978 as well. Even more frustratingly, the 2005 OHL championship banner - the most meaningful title from my entire life and the one I wanted to win from early childhood right up to Game 5 against Ottawa - went missing about a decade ago and has never been replaced. The Hunter ownership era has turned the Knights from a perennial also-ran into the class of the CHL on the ice, but the off-ice product has always left a little to be desired, and this is no more visible at the Budweiser Gardens than in the rafters.

Facilities are unlike any in the OHL, with all the bells and whistles you'd expect. There aren't nearly enough male washrooms but other than that there is anything a fan could reasonably want in a hockey arena, from a full-service restaurant to a separate sports bar to all the food you can eat. There is also a fully-stocked team store called "The Armoury", as well as another large souvenir kiosk upstairs on the 300-level. The scoreboard features a full video board and is one of the OHL's finest. The Knights also use two LCD boards in each end, which gave them the title of "best technical scoreboard setup" of the buildings I've been to when the rink opened, and they're still near the top. Unfortunately, it's not run very professionally, with poor clipart graphics and amateurish presentation, although the music is played at a decent volume. As for atmosphere, the building isn't quite at London Gardens levels, but after a quiet first few seasons the Gardens has acquitted itself nicely and can easily put itself in the higher range of the league for crowd noise.

The worst thing about the Budweiser Gardens is the canned, corporate atmosphere. I've grown to accept promotional time-outs and such as necessary evils that pay the bills and keep ticket prices down, but the Knights do the promos extremely badly. In the NHL, most teams have promotional staff that have learned how to work with the crowd rather than against it. Promotions tend to be flexible, and if the crowd is giving the referee or the opposing goalie the business, maybe that's not the best time to have the Kiss Cam. Crowds absolutely have an effect on the team, and most NHL teams prove that it is possible to have the promotions to pay the bills at boring moments while still allowing the crowd to be a hockey crowd. The Knights, however, do not. Promotions happen on schedule regardless of what's happening on the ice, and crowd noise has been beaten into submission by the nonstop advertising at every stoppage. Music selection doesn't change much game-to-game, and the intermissions no longer feature any music, just commercials for 18 solid minutes.

I admit that I am overly hard on the Knights - I am a Londoner and a Knights fan, I know what London hockey crowds used to be like, and I get to experience more of the new era than any other CHL rink. The truth is that it's an amazing place - a beautiful, professional quality arena in miniature. Attending any junior hockey game where 9,000 people fill the place every single week is always going to be a great experience. But! If the Knights would only hire scoreboard operators who knew how to turn down the music when the crowd gets going and a promotions announcer that was willing to wait till the next whistle to tell everyone about the quality and durability of Spacely Sprockets if the crowd got going, the atmosphere would again be the envy of the OHL, as indeed it has been for occasional games during the playoffs and 2005 Memorial Cup where the promos took a back seat. But instead, for most regular season games, the amateurish scoreboard/music crew just frustrate the real hockey fans in the audience.

The truth about the Knights and Budweiser Gardens is that the Hunter brothers have spared no expense since buying the team in building the Knights into a perennial powerhouse. As a Knights fan, I still haven't gotten completely used to my team being the league powerhouse, but this is who we are now, and I'd still prefer a winning team over a losing team. But I'm also not going to pretend that I don't miss some of the things about the way the team used to be. If I were hired to be in charge of gameday ops for the Knights, the first thing I would do would be to hang banners for every moment in team history, and the second would be to send the entire operations staff to Dallas to see how the best promotions team in hockey runs the show. It's not like the Knights don't have the money, after all. Apart from having too few men's washrooms, Budweiser Gardens is still one of the best buildings in junior hockey. It's too bad that the place isn't run like it.

 Inside Budweiser Gardens

Budweiser Gardens

 Future Developments
There are no plans to renovate or replace Budweiser Gardens.

 Franchise History
The London Knights got their start as a junior B team in 1950-51. The team went through a number of different names in the 1950's based upon the team's different sponsors, and by the early 1960's the team was called the London Nationals, named for the team's main sponsor, CN Rail. They played out of the old Ontario Arena at the Western Fairgrounds. London played in the Western Junior B league, which also included teams in Sarnia, Chatham, Windsor, and a few other cities. The Nationals won the championship in 1952 as well as two years in a row in 1964 and 1965.

In the mid 1960's, as the Metro Junior A League collapsed and the original St. Michael's Majors disappeared, the Toronto Maple Leafs wanted another junior team on which to put their prospects, and decided to purchase the Nationals and promote them to Major Junior. However, the league didn't approve of the change, and so for 1964-65, the Toronto Marlboros went on a tear, having all of the Leafs' best prospects in one place, and destroyed all competition en route to the Memorial Cup. For the 1965-66 season, given the invincibility of the Leafs' prospects and a new arena in London, the OHA allowed the Nationals to move up a level and become a full major junior team, playing out of the new Treasure Island Gardens. In 1968, NHL sponsorship ended across the OHA, and the Nationals were sold to Ottawa businessman Howard Darwin, who made a break from the Leaf era by changing the team's name to the Knights and the colours from Maple Leaf blue and white to green and gold.

 Retired Numbers
5 Rob Ramage
8 Dino Ciccarelli
9 Darryl Sittler
19 Brendan Shanahan
22 Brad Marsh
61 Rick Nash
88 Patrick Kane
91 David Bolland
94 Corey Perry

 The Talbot St. Façade

Budweiser Gardens

 Feedback
If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at Email and I'll update the guide.


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Last Revised: March 28, 2020