Exposure is important for college hockey, so the NCAA has some interesting factors to consider in awarding the next four Frozen Four finals.
The NCAA has announced the hosting finalists for the 2015-18 Frozen Four championships and all 10 locales are NHL rinks. Many cities have hosted in the past, while a couple new destinations are also included.
Here’s the master list:
For purely selfish reasons, here’s my top three:
Brooklyn: Brand new rink (the Barclays Center, soon-to-be home of the Islanders); easy to fly there from Toronto; would expose an underserved population to college hockey and I could go to Barcade, the bar that’s also an old-school arcade.
Tampa: Never been to the rink; easy to fly there from Toronto and it’s Florida, so I can wear shorts in April for once.
Buffalo: Great fans; I can drive there in about two hours; press box is spacious and I can go to Chef’s and Cheeburger Cheeburger for meals.
Now my concerns are definitely not high on the NCAA’s adjudication list, but exposure is important for college hockey. Last year in Pittsburgh I attended my first Frozen Four and it was really cool seeing a line of folks in jerseys from colleges not even playing in the final three games walking to the arena. No matter where the Frozen Four is held, ticket sales are sturdy, because many folks go every year regardless of who makes it. There were a surprising amount of empty seats in Pittsburgh, but fanbase-wise, it was a tough draw. Big-name schools such as Minnesota, Michigan, Boston College and Wisconsin were nowhere to be found, while Quinnipiac, Yale, St. Cloud State and UMass-Lowell were all fine hockey teams, but not marquee names. It’s a double-edge sword for planners: the excitement that anybody can make it versus the dread that anybody can make it.
If the NCAA wants to get more Canadian exposure, Buffalo is the best bet. Pittsburgh’s only a five hour drive from Toronto, yet The Hockey News was the only Canadian media outlet in attendance last year. When the CHL held its Top Prospects Game in Toronto in 2011, there was a ton of media there, but few actual fans in attendance. In the long run, that’s probably OK as long as the TV cameras didn’t pan through the seats too often, because at least your event got a good deal of press (unless the press was writing about how few people were there).
Philadelphia hosts this year and it will be interesting to see how it’s covered both locally and nationally.
What has become apparent is that the NCAA wants hockey to be a big-tent sport. I doubt you’ll ever see Albany (2001) or Lake Placid (1988) host again, when you can get thousands more attending even in the “non-traditional” market of Tampa.
Chicago would be a great destination because there’s a state that has unleashed a once-dormant hockey crowd for the Blackhawks, yet doesn’t have any NCAA schools playing Division 1. Would a Frozen Four entice Northwestern or Illinois to join up with the Big Ten in the future? The same could be said for the University of Maryland if Washington, D.C., earns another hosting job.
Out of the all the possibilities, I don’t think there’s a wrong choice in the bunch. At this point, the NCAA simply has to prioritize its needs – the fans won’t be disappointed in any locale.