December 29, 2002

A Hockey Night for a Non-Hockey Fan.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 10:05 pm

Last night I went with a friend to Continental Airlines Arena to watch the New Jersey Devils play the Washington Capitals. The tickets for the event came courtesy of my friend’s employer. No one I know would describe me as a sports fan, much less a hockey fan, but I have been to New Jersey Devils hockey games a couple times over the years (also with corporate tickets), and I attended this time, because it is difficult not to get caught up in the spectacle of it all.

It starts in the parking lot being surrounded by the tailgaters, ranging from folks who bring a sandwich to eat and a beer to drink before the game, to those who set up elaborate cooking areas and bring cases and cases of pre-game suds. Last night, we enjoyed it all vicariously, as it was below freezing and the thought of standing in the wind-whipped Jersey parking lot sipping a cold one didn’t appeal to me very much. So, we left the tailgating to the diehard Devils fans.

Once in the Arena and its large circular hallway, one is treated to another people show, the cast of which hustles in both directions simultaneously. I immediately began to think that I was the only person in the place who was not wearing some sort of Devils regalia. People were wearing Devils hats, Devils jerseys (adorned with their favorite player’s name and number), Devils Jackets (one guy was sporting a leather job that must have cost a small fortune), Devils Sweaters, Devils tee shirts, and a couple guys even wore Devils hardhats. The prize for the goofiest, I think, goes to the people who wear red devil’s horns on their heads that blink on and off. Some people carried homemade “Go Devils” signs, and a few even painted their faces to say, I assume, “Go Devils” (I found it difficult to read the face writing without staring directly into the faces providing the writing surface, something that made me, if not them, uncomfortable).

The circular hallway is also full of places that sell all sorts of food and drinks, including beer and I think even booze. The Devils Fan Club also mans a table, as do program sellers, and people who were taking applications for Devils Visa Cards (all the way up to platinum), which come with a free three-month subscription to Sports Illustrated Magazine. Of course, there were also numerous souvenir stands selling a dazzling array of Devils hat, jerseys, toy hockey sticks, and God knows what else. It was all flying by too fast, as I was working my way through the crowd to find our seats.

Upon exiting the circular hallway, one enters the seating area surrounding the rink. It is a case of an instant and pleasing audio and visual overload. All the arena lights are ablaze clearly showing the advertisements and corporate logos that cover seemingly every inch of the interior. Even the ice itself serves as a billboard displaying the “Bud Light” Logo under the playing surface. There are several huge TV screens on which there is always something (almost always promotional) going on. Both teams were in full force on their respective sides of the ice warming up by skating in all directions and slamming dozens and dozens of pucks to one another and at the team’s goalie. The goalies’ functional, protective outfits are also billboards for the teams’ colors and, with their elaborately painted facemasks, they look downright otherworldly to the uninitiated.

The sound of it all is also quite amazing. As the teams warm up, one can hear the multiple thwacks of the pucks hitting against the sticks as well as the noise of the skate blades cutting through the ice and against it as the players abruptly stop and change direction. Now and then a practice shot smacks into the glass (protecting the audience members from possible decapitation), which creates a sound that leaves little doubt about how fast those things fly through the air. All this is against the background of electronic music that is pumped through a well-equalized sound system that must be worth a gazillion dollars.

During the game’s many breaks in play, the action does not stop. There is a person dressed as a devil who shoots tee shirts from a special gun that can rocket tee shirts from ground level to the highest points in the arena. There is also a “Winning Section” game, which awards a single row of audience members, chosen at random, prizes that are handed out by the tee-shirt shooting Devil guy.

The huge TVs also fill in the play breaks with entertainment. For example, there is the “Kissing Cam” that focuses on two unsuspecting audience members for all in the arena to see. If they kiss, they are rewarded with applause, while refusals to smooch bring hoots and hollers from the audience. . Much like the “Kissing Cam,” there is a also a “Fan Cam,” which focuses on one or more fans who are the most creatively “Deviled Out.” Last night one of the favorites turned out to be an infant decked out in a pint-sized Devils jersey. The TV also entices audience members to visit the souvenir stands in the circular hallway during the intermissions, and informs parents that while out there the kids can have their picture taken with Scooby Doo (who looked to me to be about 6 and a half feet tall).

It was quite an amazing experience, but there is most definitely a rub, and that is, I cannot imagine too many families of four being able to afford to experience the whole show. Here are some numbers.

Tickets. Our tickets carried a price of $90.00 each. We sat in Section 117, which are very good seats, but one could pay more for even better seats. So, for Joe Working Guy, his wife and two kids, the seats alone would cost $360.00.

Parking. Our parking was included with the complimentary tickets, but parking normally costs $10.00.

Drinks and Food. If the parents might like two beers each during the evening, they come at $6.25 each (a can of Coors Light in a plastic cup), and the guy serving the beer has a tip jar. So, figure another $26.00 for beer. For kids, soda or milkshakes run about $4.75 each. If each child wants two, that’s another $19.00. Food is also extremely expensive. I don’t know about the fancier food items, but a couple pedestrian hot dogs can run $10.00. Two for each family ember totals up to something like $40.00. Toss in some fries and popcorn and you’re easily up to $50.00. (I saw dads carrying lots and lots of food and drinks).

Souvenirs. Let’s assume that the adults are not interested in souvenirs (although you could not prove that by watching the action at the counters), and that only one of the children wants a jersey, while the other wants only a hat (anyone with kids knows that this is a pretty gutsy assumption). The jersey will run about $70.00 and the hat about $30.00.

So, conservatively, it would cost a family of four something in the area of $555.00 for a night of Devils Hockey (not including a program, the Devils Year book, or the picture with Scooby Doo). Now, I am sure that it can be done cheaper. Cheaper seats, no food, no beverages, no souvenirs, no this, no that, – an evening of “no’s” to the children. Pretty sad picture, I think, and the people who are making all the money count heavily on that.

I am sure that sports journalists have a good deal to say about why it is that professional athletic events are becoming something that only well-to-do individuals and corporations can afford, so I will leave that to them. For my part, as much as I enjoyed the evening, I think for $555.00, a family could get more bang for the buck elsewhere. However, I am sure that the folks wearing the blinking horns on their heads would not agree.

Oh yeah, the game was very good. The Devils won 2 to 1 in overtime.

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