On the heels of town hall forums discussing the football and basketball programs, Boston College athletics has reached out to hockey season ticket holders to inform them of an opportunity to participate in a town hall before Saturday night's game against Maine to discuss the gameday experience for BC hockey.
The tone of this meeting will undoubtedly be a little different than the football and basketball town halls. Winning is a magical elixir, so it's hard to find much discontentment among BC hockey fans; not coincidentally, the program is also filling the seats, by far leading Hockey East in attendance yet again with an average attendance of 6,220 at home games. BC has led the league in attendance every year for the past four years and looks likely to sell out both games this weekend.
So, things are going pretty well. But there's always room to improve. Average attendance of 6,220 means there's 1,664 more seats they could fill each game - and I'm sure there are things BC could do that would keep many of those 6,220 coming back even if the team doesn't keep up their current level of success.
As luck would have it, Saturday's town hall falls on the day of the first home game I have to miss in three years. C'est la vie. But, I took the opportunity to draft an email to Brad Bates expressing my thoughts as I would submit them at a town hall. Now, as a launching point for conversation, here's a modified version of the suggestions I sent to Dr. Bates. Let me know what you think, and what you'd like discussed at Saturday' s town hall.
First, some things BC does really well:
The $10 ticket in the upper corner is the best value in Boston sports. The new A/C makes a big difference in comfort and enjoyment, and the ice quality seems better too. The scoreboards and speaker system installed within the last 4-5 years have been big upgrades to the experience, along with some of the new graphic and audiovisual presentations BC has put on during games. Additionally, the ticket ordering process for Beanpot, tournament games, and away games has been easy and convenient.
All that said, here are my thoughts on suggested improvements, based on conversations with a number of other young alum season ticket holders that I have my tickets with up in section OO.
1) Friday night start times: I know it's hard to pick the right start time that works for families with kids AND people coming from work, but I think BU was on the right track when they set Friday start times to 7:30 PM. Getting from work to BC in time for 7 can be a hassle - and this is as someone who lives and works downtown. I can't imagine throwing in a commute to a suburb along the way. Since the non-televised games are usually no longer than about 2:20, I think a 7:30 start would still be acceptable for people bringing kids to games and should be considered. It would also help ensure more fans are in their seats by puck drop, which helps atmosphere.
2) People walking down the aisles during play: As someone who sits in one of the upper sections, my biggest gripe is that there is zero semblance of crowd control in terms of people wandering up and down the aisles while the puck is in play. It's a huge pet peeve - the people doing it should know better than to be so impolite - but as it is, no other arena I've ever been to just allows people to stroll up into the sections during play - they usually have ushers to prevent that. My understanding is that the Team Ops crew prevents people from entering the lower sections during play. It would be nice if that courtesy could be extended to those in the upper level -- or, at the very least, put up signs on walls that say something like "Wait until a whistle before entering."
3): The band: I have previously expressed my frustration with the current pep band leader's one-man crusade to quash the "sieve" chant - a chant which has been sanctioned by BC athletics and, in fact, Jerry York himself. So now, we get a lone student (mic'd up with a BC-provided cowbell) to lead the chant, rather than the entire band, which makes the whole thing sound disjointed. I hope someone will have a talk with the band about restoring their leading of that chant, as it's one of the very few fun crowd traditions BC has. I get that the band is an independent entity and BC can't "make" them do anything, but it's still worth noting.
4) Student section changes: Speaking of atmosphere, the disjointed student section behind each net really kills the atmosphere, too -- it's impossible for them to get in synch, so it just ends up sounding weird and awkward from my perspective in the upper deck. I know that any relocation of students would cause disruption for season ticket holders, and I know that I would be angry if my season tickets were affected by any realignment - but I also know that it would be for the betterment of the game day experience. My personal suggestion would be to follow the model UNH uses of loading up the students behind one net, and extend the student seciton behind BC's attacking net to include sections P, Q, R, S, T and U, all the way through the corners, while preserving the upper deck student section as is - and opening the seats behind the other net to the general public.
5) Sunday afternoon games are a bad idea: I'm not sure how much control BC has over this, but Sunday afternoon games during NFL season is attendance suicide. I'm a BC hockey fan first and foremost, so I'm always there, but with so many Patriots, Giants, Jets, etc. fans in the student and alumni fan population, Sunday afternoon games are always going to take an attendance hit. They should be avoided as much as possible.
6) Scheduling: this is best left to the wisdom of Jerry York, but playing Army at home made me actually uncomfortable as BC put up double digits on them. Also, I would really love if BC scheduled extra non-conference games against BU, the way UNH and Maine have; 2 regular season games against BU each year is not enough, and I'd much rather see more BU on the schedule than Penn State, Army, or Holy Cross.
7) Concessions: I know this was also mentioned at the hoops town hall, but the concessions at Conte Forum need a major upgrade. The hot dogs, pizza, and pretzels - the main items at the big concession stand - are all really bad. The pulled pork/caesar wrap stand behind the net is a good start in adding some quality and variety Honestly, BC Dining would do a better job catering than whoever is doing the concessions now - the food at Lower dining hall is much better.
8) Glass: This doesn't impact me sitting in the upper deck, but it was an annoyance as a student sitting behind the net - BC's glass is awful, compared to some of the new, seamless glass at rinks like Agganis. The stanchions are obstructive and the glass is old, chipped and dirty. It really hurts the sightlines of anyone sitting below glass level, whereas at Agganis and other more modern rinks, the seats in the first few rows are great.
9) Hosting NCAA Men's Regionals/Women's Frozen Four: This isn't related to gameday experience per se, but I would love to see BC hockey bid on hosting both NCAA men's regionals and the Women's Frozen Four. The NCAA has shown a newfound willingness to host men's regionals on campus - but BC could also host off-site in Lowell, Worcester etc. As for the Women's Frozen Four, Agganis Arena hosted it in 2008, and Quinnipiac's rink is hosting it this year -- Boston is a natural site for the event and Conte Forum is big enough and nice enough to host it. It would be a good recruiting tool for thewomen's program.
10) Pike's Peak: I know Pike's Peak is at least somewhat independent, so BCAD can't make decisions for them, but it would be nice if they had either a young alum rate or an installment plan for payment similar to season tickets. It's a pretty big one-time expense for a recent alum to join - though I do plan on joining regardless. It would be nice to see them do some active outreach to recent alums as well. There are plenty of us who love the program and are happy to be part of supporting it financially.
11) Streaming: This also isn't related to the gameday topic, but it's worth mentioning the poor quality of BC's streaming platform, which greatly impacts BC hockey fans, as far fewer hockey games are on real TV or ESPN3 than football or basketball games. WatchND.com (Notre Dame) and GoNuXStream (Northeastern) are two examples of conference rivals who have high def, FREE streaming of ALL their men's and women's sports games that aren't on TV - with live, synced up commentary and ambient game sound, right on down to the most obscure events. Nobody expects the product to be free, but it should be as good as ND's or NU's if people are paying for it. Also, Merrimack and UMass-Lowell have managed to get some of their campus productions of hockey games on to local TV stations like WBIN. I bet the #1 hockey program around could get on TV more often if it wanted to. I get that the focus is on butts in the seats, but getting the program exposure through TV can be a way to hook in more fans, and grow the attachment of those who may attend a couple of home games a year.
So, those are my tl;dr thoughts. Brad Bates was gracious enough to respond and let me know that he appreciated these suggestions and would have them evaluated with all other thoughts submitted during the Town Hall. What do you think? What would you like to see BC hockey do differently from a gameday/operations standpoint?