November 19, 2005
Sovereign Center (Capacity: 7,083)
Reading Royals vs South Carolina Stingrays
Final Score: 6-1
* Sovereign Center has been renamed Santander Arena
* The arena was re-visited for a game on October 29, 2022
Reading, a city of 95,000, is the fourth largest in PA and located towards the southeastern portion of the state along the Schuylkill River. Known for its railroading past (made famous by the game Monopoly), the area is known as the Outlet Capitol of the World. Tough times have come down on the city with its high poverty level and crime rates. A rare bright spot has been the hockey team, as the Royals moved to the area in 2001. The franchise started in Columbus, OH before moving to Reading and the logo and colors are indicators that they began as affiliates of the Los Angeles Kings. Now, they have a much more natural parent club in the Philadelphia Flyers as orange accents have been added to their beautiful purple jerseys. Reading has been really good on the ice as they have had 12 straight winning seasons, though their playoff series record during that span is 9-9. They did win the Kelly Cup in 2013. Their home arena opened the same year that the Royals arrived and this downtown building features a small footprint that leads to a noisy and fun atmosphere.
Prestige Ranking: 3.5 out of 5
Downtown Reading is not a desirable place as many sections are sketchy, even near the arena. Around game time at least, it is completely safe and there is a police presence. Anything beyond a few blocks, I would steer clear of. The arena is on Penn Street and it has a fine look, along with a new hotel right across the street. Dining options are still fairly limited however and of marginal quality. I do like how the arena is right by the railroad tracks, which gives it some character unique to the area. One place I would go check out is a mile away and quite visible on the hilltop to the east. The Reading Pagoda, is the city’s landmark and this Japanese building sits on Mount Penn, offering a stunning view of the city and surrounding area.
Location Ranking: 4 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Reading is in between major interstates 78 and 76. While there is an interstate connection from the south (I-176), the trip in from the north takes longer to get to with state roads to traverse. These can be a little dicey at night because of deer and they also vary between highway, two-lane country road and streets with stoplights. US-222 gives way to US-422 and there is an exit that goes right to Penn Street. Any deviation from here and potholes / hard to see lines are common. Several parking lots and garages can be had right by the arena and I find the South Penn Garage to be the easiest option. Expect the normal congestion getting out of this type of venue, but once on the street, egress is decent.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7 out of 8
The exterior of the arena is a typical modern-day design with red bricks, tan walls and a green top. It is a relatively short building, but all of the elements incorporate it into the city’s architecture nicely. The shape is rectangular and there is a small glass atrium in the front corner, along with a standalone message board. In four spots, “Santander Arena” is written on the building.
Exterior Ranking: 6.5 out of 10
Fans enter into a small atrium before climbing stairs into the arena’s concourse. The highlight of this entrance area is the chandelier hanging from the ceiling. This was from the old Astor Theater, which was torn down as the arena was built on the site. Once inside, the concourse circles the arena and it is tight on space. Sloping support beams make it feel even more claustrophobic. Thankfully during both my visits, I never really experienced any big traffic jams and food stands are roped for snaking lines to improve flow. The space is not bad visually as food stands have beautiful themed murals and there are a number of teams displays around. The Lions Den team store is crammed into a corner.
Concourse Ranking: 2.5 out of 5
Food options are great and the arena has a local flair with many offerings of Pretzels (including those soft braids that are so good). The area is known for them. Most of the traditional stands have the usual offerings, while the side carts are the best choices. Here, you can find local vendors selling decent BBQ, Burrito Bowls and more uniquely, a Coffee Company with giant Sticky Buns. In the main area, Chickies & Pete’s is quite popular with the cheesesteak being a favorite. Beer options are great as there are a couple mini-bar set-ups and they offer a lot of local beer including Reading Premium and a Yuengling Hershey’s Porter.
Food Ranking: 7 out of 8
Inside the Sovereign Center is a pretty standard set-up with a single level seating bowl shaped in a traditional oval. Though nothing was all that appealing, I do like how the roof is low and flat, just above the seating which really closes in the place, promoting noise. Seats are wide and comfortable, with those closest to center having thin padding on them. They lack cupholders though. Sightlines are quite good as well as I didn’t encounter any issues throughout the building. While it is a tight arena with little open space, they’ve done some things since my last visit to add more social areas. That includes the removal of a bunch of seats towards the ice in one of the end sections to add group space standing tables. At the top above the seating bowl is the suite level and a couple of restaurant / club areas. They even created a super suite that is designed to look like a house and it actually looks kind of cool because there really isn’t any advertising on it. The press box plays second fiddle to corporate money as they get an unfortunate off-center location that seems tucked away. There is a lot of character inside as seats are purple and the lighting can go purple as well. They thankfully removed much of the overbearing advertising that I saw on the first visit (Pepsi logos for faceoff circles, front of steps with ads on them, etc.) and that improves the overall look.
Interior Ranking: 9 out of 14
The old-school dot-matrix scoreboard that I originally saw is finally gone and it has been replaced with a modern screen above center. Perfectly sized for the arena, the four sides include sharp video and corner panels with the team name. A circle video message display adjoins underneath. During the game, live footage is shown and I thought replay frequency was good. The lower quarter of the video screen is utilized for game information. Score displays can also be found above each end.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3.5 out of 4
Reading does a decent job showing off their displays as the concourse has a few squeezed in where possible. A Wall of Honor does just that to high achieving personnel and the plaque descriptions are thorough. Players that go on to the NHL are also honored in a separate area. While there isn’t much for team history, a timeline circles the top wall around the concourse. Most of this is for entertainers that have done the town and you’ll see promotion of these future events is frequent. There’s also a glass case featuring hats thrown onto the ice when a Royals players has a three goal output. Inside, the rafters feature two retired numbers and one league championship banner. Kind of refreshing to not see every type of division title honored.
Displays Ranking: 3.5 out of 6
I was surprised at the high overall cost on my first visit and it hasn’t changed much upon return. as Parking increased to $10. Ticket prices have expectedly gone up, but not by much more than inflation. Seats are $12 – $24 and if you buy online that will increase by a handful because of stupid fees. Box office will be cheaper. Concessions feature combo plates for $10 and bottled water for $5.
Cost Ranking: 6 out of 8
The honeymoon period was still in effect for my first visit as the Royals were in their fourth season and the place filled decently each night with the team ranked high in the attendance standings. Now, the team is sadly in the bottom half of league fan support. When the Royals made the playoffs last year, most nights featured a building only 1/3rd full. Their Conference Semifinal Game 7 only drew 1,860. Despite the disappointing numbers, fans here are passionate. On my 2022 visit, many of them are wearing Royals gear (man they make a lot of themed jerseys!) and there was a palpable buzz outside the arena. This leads to the next section, which is surprisingly good. For attendance on this Saturday Night Home Opener, I’d guesstimate around 3,000. Not bad, but certainly not great.
Fan Support Ranking: 4 out of 8
Both visits have featured fantastic energy from the crowd. My first visit, you could tell they were all watching closely as about 2 seconds after Shay Stevenson scored his third goal of the night, hats littered the ice. After the Royals score, a huge roar follows as most get to their feet and the equally loud goal horn is followed by “Rock and Roll, Part 2″…a classic that I love to see still used somewhere. The fans follow with “Hey…You Suck” (pointing at goalie). Successful penalty kills are met with cheers and the little things don’t go unnoticed here. The periodic cowbells, vuvuzelas and air horns add to an old-school vibe. Staff also cranks up the music, making this a very loud venue that has got to be tough to play in. Too bad more fans don’t show up as it really would be an insane place come playoff time. “Let’s Go Royals” is a periodic chant. Something missing towards the end of the 2022 season opener with Reading down one was there really wasn’t any push from the crowd to get it tied. Otherwise, great stuff here.
Atmosphere Ranking: 11.5 out of 14
The city is named after the one in England, thus it is pronounced Redd-ing and not Read-ing…..More from the Astor Theater, which stood on the site before being torn down to make way to the Sovereign Center. The movie and entertainment theater was built in the 1920s and was the center of entertainment in Reading until the 1970s before falling into disrepair. Along with the chandelier, the wrought-iron gates were saved and can be seen in the opening atrium…….The video screens that display the menus rotate between ads and this is very annoying as you have to wait for the loop to check out what you want. Please stop this Reading……A growing trend are cheerleaders and they have them here (the Ice Angels).
Game (Initial Visit)
In the game, Reading overcame a sloppy opening ten minutes to take a 1-0 lead. They then scored two goals in 41 seconds on a two-man advantage to blow the game open and win 6-1. Shay Stevenson finished with 4 goals, including a breakaway tally