Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Venue vs. Venue

Ahhh, the age-old debate on which venue is better for hockey in Cincinnati. To answer this I will admittedly be a fence rider. You can call me a mugwump if you are old enough to have been taught what a mugwump is. The answer is simply both. And neither. Really, it is a 50/50 split, IMHO. Both have a set of pros and cons. Let’s explore them.

I’ll go by seniority and begin with the Cincinnati Gardens. It is a good size for hockey in our fair city. It’s big enough to hold a good, raucous crowd but not so big that a smaller crowd is swallowed by empty seats. It’s a very traditional “hockey barn” that may not be perfect, but it’s charm is in its imperfection. From a skater’s view, the ice there is awesome. The main arena has two chiller systems. One is old and uses more juice but it’s extremely strong. They can crank that sucker up for games to maintain good ice under the inside heat load of 10k screaming fans.

From a financial standpoint, it stands to reason that the building has a better chance of being financially viable with much less overhead, relatively speaking. For me personally, the Cyclones comeback of the early ‘90s at the Gardens permanently embedded many good memories of the Cincinnati Gardens. Some people like the sight lines better. The steeper bowl makes even higher-up seats feel closer to the ice. Parking is also close, and cheaper.

I learned to love hockey at the Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum. I was 7 or 8 when my mom and dad got divorced. My single mother was looking for things to do with me when she met Skip Korb, a local sports writer, through some professional contacts. He generously shared his comp. tickets with us – right down on the glass on the half boards where the Stingers defended in the first and third periods. I saw a lot of Mike Liut; and was close to the left wing side where Paul Stewart would be dropping his gloves from the opening face-off with his gloves hitting the ice only a millisecond after the puck. I heard that Skip passed away a few years ago, if anybody has any information on that I would appreciate it.

A paragraph wasted on nostalgia. Oh well, it’s my blog and I’ll babble if I want to.

The Coliseum was built as a hockey venue for the major league WHA Cincinnati Stingers. The Coliseum has newer amenities than the Gardens by a couple of decades. It feels more modern, and current to me. I like the new scoreboard, the padded seats, and the big league feel. It is an attractive building with good sight lines and nice padded seats. Some people don’t like the sight lines. I do.

For the people who like to be close to the action, they have 2-3 rows of seating on the glass that do not even exist at the Gardens. The wrap-around corners mean you don’t have to wrench your neck from anywhere in the building. My seats are in the end zone, below the glass and under the dreaded netting. For parking you have options. You can pay a bit more for the convenience and security of the garage; or you can go cheap, as I do, and park the public landing. I pack heat, so I don’t really worry about thugs.

For all the good I see in both places, I have to acknowledge the downsides. I’ll go in reverse order this time and start with the Coliseum. It can be a sterile place with an industrial feel about it. With its larger capacity, the crowd can really raise the roof (opening night for Cyclones, IHL All Star game) but it takes a big crowd to get that. Otherwise, “swallowed by empty seats” does come to mind. A smaller crowd has a much smaller impact. Maybe they should put curtains up to completely eliminate the upper bowl. When the crowd is big and rockin’ the house, the plaza level gets uncomfortably congested. The improvements of the late ‘90s help but it still gets tight in there. Parking is either more expensive, or less convenient. You can park free on the public landing or on a city street, but you have to walk further and may not be comfortable with that. The changing setup to accommodate other programs makes it harder to keep the best quality of ice.

The wrap on the Gardens is a little different. In real estate, you see homes marketed as “quaint,” or “charming,” and in an “established neighborhood.” That translates from realtor-speak to: a run-down dump in the ghetto.

The building has fewer restrooms and they can get quite congested. Once in a while, a fella’s “gotta go” and I don’t like to have to fight for a seat. The arena seats are hard an uncomfortable. In the corners you have to crane your neck down-ice to see and the end zones were ruined by the netting. Since they don’t have lower bowl seating the end zone, the only seats I like at the Gardens now are between the blue lines, and that is a compromise since I prefer the end zone.

I’m not really sure about the long-term viability of either place. I don’t have enough information to really form an opinion but I can make some observations. The Gardens, being older, simply has a shorter amount of time left. It is becoming obsolete and eventually upgrades just won’t be a viable option. Having local family ownership, though, means that they may be more motivated to keep it viable and competitive. Their overhead is lower, opening up their margin of options.

The city would probably love to see the Coliseum torn down in lieu of other development. Being owned by a large corporation, I could see them deciding to bail out on the place if the money is right. It may lack the direction and vision of local family ownership. However, the corporate ownership has a bigger financial kitty to play with. They won’t allow themselves to lose too much money on any single endeavor; but they can take some losses if their overall balance sheet is positive and if the losing places serve their interests in other ways as a “value added” such as the ability to bring in big name acts, etc. that enhance their overall business.

Bottom Line: I’ll go watch hockey in either building and be damn glad to do so.

Did you really read all of this? Seriously? Man, get a life!

Stay tuned for my next installment: The Truth About Ticket Prices

*Disclaimer*
This blog is my sole opinion. It may be based on reason and fact; or it may be purely my emotional preference but it is mine alone. I only claim to be perfect most of the time. You are entitled to disagree, and I invite you to do so - somewhere else.

3 Comments:

Blogger frito said...

Very well said. Neither place is better or worse to watch hockey, just different.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Gerald Bateman said...

I have to agree also..It is literally a coin toss for me as to which hockey barn I prefer....

I think an AHL hockey club would be better suited for US Bank Arena. And an ECHL club for the Gardens.....

This of course was totally opposite of what happened when we had two teams.....

12:36 AM  
Blogger Guido said...

Yeah, it is bass-ackwards, eh? But that's the hand we've been dealt.

9:45 AM  

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