October 8, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Ford Field Miscalculation: Better to Correct It Now

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

The news had been rumored, but it became official today: Ticket sales for the 2010 Frozen Four, set for Ford Field in Detroit, are much slower than had hoped.

The NCAA spun its press release every which way it could, never coming right out and saying this was the reason for today's announcement — which focused entirely on reconfiguring the arrangement of the field in order to create a "better atmosphere for student athletes and fans."

The whole thing is quite forgivable given all the circumstances, but trying to insult people's intelligence by glossing over the obvious, is pretty silly.

See News Article with new seating diagram and rink configuration

Let's face it, when the NCAA men's ice hockey committee awarded the bid to Detroit in 2005, it had visions of all those sexy outdoor games that have sold out huge football stadiums.

In this case, however, they severely miscalculated. Gunning for a crowd of 60,000-plus, instead, with the "reconfiguration," the rink was moved to the end zone, and a partition will be set up on the other side. This reduces maximum capacity to 36,000.

As of now, according to the NCAA, 22,000 seats are "accounted for," a typical amount for this time, and what would've been another sellout in any other year. But far short of hopes for this event.

Let the record show that I was never a fan of this idea, even if it sold. A gimmicky outdoor game, perhaps in the snow, is fun for a regular season game — when atmosphere is OK to focus on, and not necessarily the game itself. But this is the NCAA championship — where the game is paramount. Fans and media would be too far from the field to enjoy it as much as usual.

Furthermore, there was a big risk that it would dilute the product and would come out looking bad. The Frozen Four has become a great event because it sells out all the time now, and looks great on TV. But this was hardly a slam dunk if you tried to go beyond the size of regular NHL arenas. I mean, on any given Frozen Four weekend, tickets can be had outside the arena pretty easily. The Thursday games usually have many holes in the seats.

I was no fan of the Tampa bid either, which is set for 2012, but that's another story altogether.

Unfortunately, the worst fears came true.

Granted, economics are very tough, and no place in America has been harder hit than the Detroit area, where unemployment reaches near 25 percent.

But even given that, the idea was risky to begin with.

This is not a hatchet job on those who made the decision. The powers that be are great administrators and hockey men, and they deserve enormous respect. I simply disagreed with this decision. People got a bit too excited about selling out all of those NHL arenas.

Let's give them credit for this, however — they recognized the issue early enough, and now can correct it. They have some egg on their face now, but come March, it will be long in the rear view mirror. Kudos for acknowledging this reality with their actions (even if not in their press release).

Better to do this now, than to show up in April and play in front of a cavernous half-empty stadium. That would be far more embarrassing.

In a way, this is a big improvement for the hockey purists. Thanks to the lack of sales and the reconfiguration, the sight lines will indeed be much, much better than they would've been. This is a good thing, and a relief, frankly.

But let's be honest, this is not the reason this change was made, or it would've been done that way to begin with.

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