The Tank Turns 30!

30 Years of World-Class Entertainment at SAP Center in the Heart of Downtown San Jose

Big Decisions Ahead Will Decide What the Next 30 Years Look Like

September 2023 - Sept. 7 to be exact – marked the 30th anniversary of SAP Center at San Jose opening its doors to the citizens of San Jose as the most modern and finest entertainment venue in the Bay Area. On that date, it wasn’t hockey players or even a top music artist who was the historical footnote of being the first act to play the then-San Jose Arena; it was the circus.

The pristine new South Bay arena served as a pillar of civic pride for the city, helping San Jose transition from its reputation as a lesser-respected sibling to its northern neighbors of San Francisco and Oakland.

San Jose now had its own public entertainment center – and soon, its first major professional sports team: the San Jose Sharks.

How Did We Get Here?

By 1990, San Jose was well entrenched as the unquestioned Capital of Silicon Valley. Its population had ballooned to nearly 800,000, surpassing San Francisco, and making it the largest city in Northern California. Major technology companies were moving in, after discovering the region’s perfect blend of a savvy workforce with a comfortable, small-town feel.

Just two years prior, the citizens of San Jose had voted to approve the financing and construction of an entertainment venue in downtown San Jose. Following decades of traveling 40-50 miles to watch the world’s top entertainment acts, they would now have a place to call their own.

And although the voters greenlit the facility with no promise of the arrival of a major professional sports franchise, the wheels began turning and soon after, the expansion San Jose Sharks were born.

Less than a year after opening its doors, the arena snagged one of the most coveted concert tours in the past 50 years – Barbra Streisand. Embarking on her first tour in nearly 30 years, the global superstar made San Jose and the newly-opened arena one of only seven stops in the United States (she would appear again in 2006, 2012 and 2016). Coupled with the Sharks Cinderella playoff appearance in which they defeated the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings, the New York Times declared “San Jose Leaps Into the Big Leagues.

Over the past three decades, SAP Center and the San Jose Sharks have served as the key economic and entertainment catalysts to the downtown San Jose that we now see today. And over that span, the quantity, quality, and variety of events that SAP Center has hosted is astounding.

In the sporting world, those events have included the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, NHL All-Star Games in 1997 and 2019, world-class U.S Gymnastics events (2007, 2012, 2016, and 2023), U.S. Figure Skating Championships (1996, 2012, 2018 and 2023), the NCAA men’s basketball tournament seven times (scheduled again in 2026) and the women’s NCAA Women’s Final Four in 1999, ATP tennis tournaments from 1994- 2013, and league championships with indoor football’s Bay Area Panthers and the San Jose SaberCats, and roller hockey’s San Jose Rhinos – to just name a few.

And as one of the country’s busiest and most successful indoor arena’s, nearly every entertainment performer imaginable has graced the stage in San Jose over the past 30 years: Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Metallica, Vicente Fernandez, Beyonce, Elton John, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Jay-Z, The Three Tenors (Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras), Madonna, Eric Clapton, Simon & Garfunkel, Coldplay, Lady Gaga, Prince, Drake, Adele, Luis Miguel, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, U2 …. and the list goes on and on.

In total, SAP Center has hosted more than 3,000 non-hockey events.

An Anchor of Stability

The Sharks franchise’s impact on the city-owned arena dates back prior to a shovel being placed in the ground at the intersection of Santa Clara and Autumn Streets. Since the arena was planned and approved without the presence of a professional sports franchise, the initial design plans did not take into consideration many of the critical amenities that are essential to modern sports arenas and concert halls.

Backed by Sharks founding owners George and Gordon Gund, the team committed more than $30 million to re-design and upgrade several key areas of the facility’s infrastructure, bringing the arena to a standard necessary to house one of the world’s top-four major professional sports leagues.

That tradition of fiscal support continues today under the leadership of Hasso Plattner. A passionate hockey fan, Plattner is also committed to being a good community steward. Throughout the Sharks history, the team has given back to the San Jose and Bay Area communities – both through philanthropic efforts with the Sharks Foundation, which has donated nearly $20 million to worthwhile non-profits since 1994 and through reinvesting more financial resources into maintaining and improving the city-owned SAP Center than the $162.5 million it originally cost to build.

While guests will certainly notice and appreciate many of these improvements by simply walking in the front door, such as the recently upgraded center-hung video display, arena ribbon panels, and marquee premium areas like the Penthouse Lounge and Sharks Lounge on the arena club level, a facility of this size cannot continue without behind-the-scenes infrastructure maintenance. Many of these “back-of-house” projects have included installing a new ice-making system, replacing the arena roof, upgrading communications technology and high-speed internet throughout the arena.

What Does the Future Hold For SAP Center?

Despite the consistent efforts of the team and the City of San Jose to maintain SAP Center as one of the top facilities in the country, Father Time waits for no one.

After more than 30 years and nearly 50 million visitors have passed through its doors, SAP Center is now the third-oldest arena in the National Hockey League that has not undergone a major renovation. Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, originally built in 1962, was completely gutted except for the existing roof structure and re-opened in 2021. New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, originally opened in 1968, has since seen two major renovations, including a $1 billion, three-year modernization project from 2011-2013.

Only two other non-renovated NHL arenas were constructed prior to SAP Center: Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary and the Honda Center in Anaheim, which opened less than three months prior to then-San Jose Arena. In Oct. 2023, the City of Calgary announced that they had finalized agreements for a new arena for the Flames and district improvements worth $1.2 Billion (CDN), set to open in 2027. In Anaheim, the facility has seen several targeted renovations of the arena’s infrastructure, including team offices, locker room areas, and premium space additions. A larger, $4 billion, 100-acre private redevelopment project is also currently in the works for the area surrounding the Honda Center.

While visitors to San Jose’s crown entertainment jewel may not notice the facility’s true age due to thoughtful maintenance and care from Sharks Sports & Entertainment – the arena’s dedicated steward since its opening – it’s clear that important decisions lie ahead related to the building’s future viability.

With the Chase Center in San Francisco now online and a renovated Oakland Arena available with no professional sports team occupant, the competition for the world’s top entertainment acts in the Bay Area is higher than it’s ever been.

As we look towards the next 30 years – and beyond – there is much work to be done to ensure that the impact that SAP Center has had on the downtown San Jose economy and on its resident’s lives will continue for future generations. As we have for the past three decades, Sharks Sports & Entertainment remains committed to working with local leaders to ensure that the city-owned arena and the legacy of the Sharks remain engrained in San Jose.