WHEELING - Fans entering WesBanco Arena at 7 p.m. today for the Wheeling Nailers' 2012 home opener may have to do a double take.
The appearance - more specifically the fan experience that comes with it - of the 35-year-old venue is one of the first things the Hockey Club of the Ohio Valley set out to change. The club is a conglomerate of the Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association and the Regional Economic Development Partnership that owns the team.
''We have a culture that we need to build, both as a fanbase and as an organization,'' Don Rigby, executive director of RED, said Thursday morning during the team's media day festivities. ''There's a lot of things we had to put in place, wanted to put in place, that will take us even longer.
''We've brought folks in and tried to get the best experts in the field to say, 'What do we do to make the experience for our fans better?' I think a piece of that was, it needs to look more like your arena. It needs to have a little buzz, some of your colors need to be on the walls and those types of things.''
From small things such as a paint job - Vegas Gold and Black - for the concourse, to larger ones like video boards at each end of the arena, a combination of the Nailers, the city of Wheeling and WesBanco Arena, under the direction of Denny Magruder, has left no stone unturned.
''We're excited about it,'' Rigby said. ''We want to see how the fans react to the cleaning up, the new paint scheme, some of the changes that we made.
''Hopefully they react well," he added. "And if they don't, we'll react to what our customers have to say. But we think they're really going to enjoy it.''
Not only will the video boards enable hockey fans to be more a part of the game, but they also will serve that purpose for entertainment acts that make their way to Wheeling each year.
''The arena's hired a consulting firm, and they're going to be here this weekend,'' Rigby said. ''We have hired TSE (Total Sports Entertainment) for gameday promotions, help on the video boards - sort of look at what we do for a fan experience.
Rigby noted that many businesses like to take clients to sporting events to talk shop. With that in mind came the creation of the DeNoon Lumber Suite, which can be rented for games. It comes with as many as 40 seats, as well as a bar.
''Between DeNoon Lumber and Cattrell Companies, both of them worked hard to get that done. DeNoon supplied all the lumber, and Cattrell the labor,'' Rigby said. ''The DeNoon is the first step, and we would like to look at more (suites) in the future, (though) I don't think you'll see any more this year.''
What fans will see are a couple of bars/drink stations placed along the upper concourse to eliminate the need to exit the playing area and miss parts of the game. If patrons should continue to want to go that route, however, high-definition televisions will be available for their viewing pleasure.
''Between ourselves and the arena, we've split those costs and put two 51-inch TVs around each concession stand and some new TVs in the club,'' Rigby said. ''One, you can see the action on the ice, but if there happens to be a Steelers game or something along those lines, we can switch to that.''
Longtime fans will be interested to know that ''The Club,'' formerly known as the Health Plan Pavilion, is set to re-open for use before, during and after each game. The team will enter the ice through that area, making its way through a new beer garden, and return to the Club following games to mingle with fans.
''We're trying to make this arena more fan-friendly,'' Rigby said. ''We've turned it into sort of a private club for season ticket holders.
''It makes sense for the club to be for season ticket holders, and you can also buy your way in on a (daily) basis. We want something a little special, a thank-you for them for supporting this organization not only this year, but all the years,'' he continued.
Beginning probably next week, "roving barkers" will be making their way around the arena selling beer and soda, and eventually there will be new items available at concession stands.
In addition, the team shop has a permanent home inside the arena, which Rigby said is another example of the fine working relationship between the team and Magruder. The lodging for players has improved -20 players reside in cabins at Oglebay Park, and buses are being rented for road trips.
''Again, we talked about building a culture. We want to be known throughout the league as a quality organization, doing what's right,'' Rigby said. ''We compete with other teams, and it helps to have the affiliations we do. But players can choose to sign here or Las Vegas, or San Francisco, or Orlando. What you do as an organization, how you treat people, it's going to make a difference.
''Give us some time,'' Rigby said. ''It will be a process for us to get what we can done in a short amount of time, then move forward to the next piece and then the next.''