By Bill Hoppe
If you keep saying the Buffalo Sabres play in HSBC Arena, you probably won’t be alone. The downtown arena had the same name for more than 12 years. It’s only natural to slip. But for at least the next 15 years, the home of the Sabres will be known as First Niagara Center, the team announced Thursday.
The Buffalo-based bank recently bought up 200 HSBC Bank branches, including all area ones, so a name change seemed likely.
“This is the most significant sponsorship agreement in the history of Western New York Sports, both financially and the fact it joins two of the hottest brands in our region,” Sabres president Ted Black said Thursday inside First Niagara Center.
John Koelmel, CEO of First Niagara, said financial terms would be revealed later.
“It would naïve for me to say the money wasn’t important because it is,” Black said. “We didn’t have this rolled into our budget, quite frankly, for this year.”
Still, the Sabres spent more than $70 million on new players last month.
“It would not have changed our business had we not done it,” Black said about the naming rights.
Black said the team hopes to switch all signage by Oct. 14, opening night. Workers planned to start the changes Thursday afternoon.
“This is going to be a challenge, especially that massive sign that’s above us,” Black said about the large sign in the atrium. “That’ll probably be the most difficult one.”
This is the third name in the building’s history. It opened in 1996 as Marine Midland Arena.
First Niagara also has its name on a concert pavilion in Pittsburgh and sponsors a tennis tournament in Connecticut.
“We’re very focused on investing in our community,” Koelmel said.