College Hockey Hits HR with Pittsburgh; Bunts on Philadelphia
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Does any other fan base care more about where the NCAA championship is held each year than the college hockey fans?
You don't see the same rumination over Final Four site selection among college basketball fans as you do among the die hard college hockey fans over Frozen Four site selection.
College hockey fans don't just want games, they want an experience. There are about 10,000 or so people who show up every year — it's like the world's largest Moose Lodge convention — and it's not enough to just see the games, or stay in a nice hotel. Fans want the atmosphere to be good, they want the surroundings to be good, they want easy access to fun stuff to do.
And well they should.
Consequently, the selection of Pittsburgh — long-endorsed in this space — is a big thumbs up; while the selection of Philadelphia — long un-endorsed in this space — is a big thumbs down.
I'm not going to pretend this is the biggest travesty in the world — certainly there are bigger things to worry about. But the Frozen Four is something that college hockey fans look forward to, and the venues chosen always get a lot of chatter, so it's worth thinking about.
Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center — nee Wachovia Center, nee First Union Center, nee CoreStates Center — is a perfectly fine NHL building. Their staff is top-rate, their ability to hold large events is top rate. It has hosted the Republican National Convention, two Stanley Cup finals, an NBA final, NCAA basketball regionals, and its first sports events were the World Cup of Hockey in 1996.
It is also not near anything. Unless you count a small restaurant inside the Phillies' stadium (across the street). It's also near the site of 1985's Live Aid, though that's now a parking lot. If you close your eyes, maybe you can hear Bono. You can just about see downtown from the arena complex, three miles north. You could walk there in about two hours, though you really wouldn't want to. There's one hotel barely within walking distance. Even Tony Luke's famed cheesesteak place — a little hut, really, near a Wendy's and KFC — is a few blocks up on Oregon Ave., a good 20-30 minute walk from the arena.
Running shuttles is a nightmare for fans. There's never enough of them, and you're at the mercy of the shuttle schedule. There is a subway stop there, which is better, but has the same issues.
The Spectrum, the one-time venerated home of the Flyers and 76ers, closed its doors for good, finally, last October, but long-discussed plans for a sprawling entertainment complex known as "Philly Live!" has never been able to get off the ground. Originally conceived as a 350,000 square foot complex, it's been scaled down to 40,000 square feet, but with no tenants yet committed. (See here for more)
Even if something gets done, it will certainly lack the charm of downtown Philly locations like Independence Hall, Old City and Rittenhouse Square.
This isn't about the Philadelphia organizers; can't blame them for going after it. Like we said, these are quality people who can put on an event. It's not their fault the venues are where they are.
This is about why Philadelphia was chosen over better options. It's fine for one night, but for a week's experience, college hockey fans want downtown venues — and the e-mails received in the last 24 hours back that up. (All attempts to reach anyone for a comment were unsuccessful today.)
Fresh off everyone dumping on Detroit, the last thing we need is more piling on of generally likable college hockey people. But at least we voiced our concerns in 2004, when Detroit was selected, not after the fact, like everyone else. So consider this to be the obligatory griping session for this round of selections. You can remember in 2014 that I told you so.
Last year's Frozen Four, in Detroit, was not a great experience for fans inside the stadium, but its downtown location did at least lend itself to the usual "atmosphere" that college hockey fans crave. Washington D.C. in 2009 all but set the blueprint for future Frozen Fours, or at least it should, with the arena downtown and all sorts of attractions, shopping, bars, etc... within walking distance.
You can't expect every city to be like D.C., but Boston and St. Louis were up for bids, and both have proven to be great locations. Columbus was the last location, in 2005, that was nowhere near anything, with the games played on Ohio State's campus. That wasn't fun.
Political clout strikes you as a big reason for Philadelphia's selection. The Flyers are owned by Comcast Spectacor, which is the sports arm of Comcast, a cable television giant. Philadelphia went hard for a bid the last time around, losing out to the likes of Washington D.C. and Tampa Bay. But even since then, six years ago, Comcast has grown that much larger — swallowing up smaller cable companies and dominating the American cable market. With that, has come numerous regional sports networks — such as Comcast Philadelphia and Comcast Washington. It has also started Versus, the cable network that owns broadcast rights to NHL games.
Last but not least, Comcast just purchased NBC. Essentially, Comcast has positioned itself to become the next Disney — the behemoth that owns half the world, it seems, including the entire ESPN empire.
So that is probably not an entity you want to tick off right now.
I guess you could say that makes the selection understandable. Who is college hockey, after all, than a bunch of puny administrators in comparison? There's no billionaires in this crowd, far as I know.
But we still don't have to like it.
Did the world come to an end with this decision? No. Actually, selections such as Tampa Bay are probably worse. And please no football stadiums again any time soon. We've probably spent a lot more words/time complaining about it than it really deserves to be complained about.
But in the context of college hockey fans' passion for the event, and desire for a great atmosphere, the selection of Philadelphia is a miss. I hope they prove me wrong.