Nostalgia for a parking lot. 
Nostalgia for a parking lot. 

Vanquishing the Ghosts of Arena with a New Name

by / Oct. 30, 2015 12pm EST

The news of First Niagara possibly being acquired by KeyCorp for $4.1 billion is a very big deal. I say possibly, only because bank acquisition deals are extraordinarily complex transactions, just look at the M & T’s merger with Hudson City Bancorp, a deal that took over three years to complete. But it seems like it’s no longer a question of “if” but “when.”

That kind of timeline should give most current employees of First Niagara time to adapt to the new reality, whether their jobs will be subsumed by Key and shown the door or be given a parallel position with the new boss. The hardest-hit sector of the local economy may very well be downtown commercial real estate, as First Niagara leases a ton of square footage in Larkinville. Adding to the high vacancy at One Seneca Tower and the expected vacancy at the Key Center once Delaware North vacates (even with IBM moving in) could be one of Buffalo’s symbolic flashpoints for its resurgence at Larkin Square.

But the most notable and nationally significant building downtown that this news throws into uncertainty is the First Niagara Center. Formerly the Marine Midland Arena and then the HSBC Center, it’s officially a trend that the naming rights of the Buffalo Sabres portends doom to whatever financial institution wants to take it on. This isn’t Halloween-induced hyperbole, the banks that lend their names to buildings in that part of town seem cursed. Add John Rigas’s colossal fall from grace to the mix and you get the feeling the space at the foot of Main Street needs to dissolve its ghosts.

Even if the naming rights reverted to KeyCorp, would they want it? Not only does the arena seem to be a good place for banks to die, but an arena with “Key” in the name is just as fraught. Ask anyone from Seattle. The outdated KeyArena in Seattle became the then new owner’s excuse to move the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma. Not to mention the fact that First Niagara’s blue and yellow meshed well with the Sabres uniform colors, Key Bank’s red, white, and black would mark a return to the dreaded goat-head era.

According to my fine sense of divination, I think the Pegulas might consider going Ralph on the arena, and excusing himself out of the 15-year deal the Sabres signed in 2011. But what would they name it?

The corporate naming of American sports venues has reached absurd levels, but there’s no reason to expect that will change just out of purely aesthetic interests. But one can hope, right?

Here’s another nugget to consider: the Sabres contract with MSG is up at the end of the 2017 season. With all the #OneBuffalo hoopla and the existence of the Pegula Sports and Entertainment company, ownership would seem poised to launch a 24-7 local sports network with the Sabres’ telecast as their anchor event. PSE Arena, anyone? 

I’d still love a traditional name for the arena, something that makes it a place, a name that invokes a smell. Like Maple Leaf Gardens or Montreal’s the Forum. Canalside Arena comes close to hitting that mark, and would make that area that much more inviting. But what say you? What should the arena’s eventual name be?