(Ed. Note - For my final column as BCI manager, I’m delving in to a topic I’ve wanted to write about for years, but could never figure out the perfect time. No better time than the present!)
Conte Forum was built at the exact wrong time. The 28-year-old facility is too new to have character like a Matthews Arena or one of the crusty old basketball barns, but was built before the modern era of arenas with high-end amenities like Agganis Arena. It is what many facilities built in the 70s and 80s were: a bland, cookie-cutter, multi-purpose venue that doesn’t really serve either purpose particularly well.
Realistically, however, it’s not going anywhere for quite some time. It’s still in good shape, due in no small part to some great efforts BC has taken in the last 10 years to modernize and update it. And there are obviously numerous facilities needs that BC has that dwarf the need for a new hockey or basketball arena.
So, Conte isn’t going anywhere for at least 15-20 years, if I had to guess. How do we make the most of it? Here are some thoughts:
Rip out the upper deck benches and replace them with chairbacks (and make those seats gold)
This would be priority #1 to me as it would serve a dual purpose. It would reduce the capacity somewhat - a useful thing to do when the building only fills 2-3 times a year between hockey and hoops combined. Additionally, it would obviously make the seating and experience more comfortable and pleasant for fans in the upper deck.
With chairback seats, you could probably justify raising the “cheap seats” at hockey from $10 to $15 and more than offset a loss in capacity. For basketball, losing some seats would really would only be an issue right now for Duke and UNC. That said, it’s not a bad thing for your product to create some occasions where demand outpaces supply, which also adds value to season ticket packages.
Also, I think the upper deck seats are theoretically supposed to be gold right now, but they basically look beige when you’re looking at them from across the way. Make the new seats bright and bold.
Add new premium seating options/party deck
I’m not sure how feasbile this is, but one thing that Conte notably lacks is much in the way of “premium” or group experience options. At Agganis Arena your corporate group or party can rent a premium area for a fraction of the cost of a similar experience at TD Garden.
Conte has boxes behind one net but they are extremely limited and the view of the rink is poor.
Here’s my thought: carve off the last few rows of sections JJ-OO for this purpose. Again, I’m not sure how architecturally feasible this is, but behind the opposite side, you have a press area; maybe behind these sections you could have a bar area, and the back few rows could be blocked off for group or premium seating that includes access to food and drinks. You could also maybe do something like this with one of the tall corner sections.
IT’S A TARP!
About 6 years ago, (heavily) modifying something the Seattle Sounders do with CenturyLink Field, the New England Revolution starting tarping off a number of back rows depending on anticipated crowd size (opening more rows as necessary). The result did improve atmosphere somewhat by bringing the crowd closer together and closer to the game.
At basketball games, unless it’s going to be one of the few sellouts, nobody really wants to sit in those upper corner sections that are beyond each hoop. Tarp those off and tarp the back rows of the middle upper deck sections and condense the crowd a little bit. It could create a better vibe at games with 4000 or so fans.
The concessions, for the love of Flutie
I know this has been a complaint for... well, for as long as I’ve been going to BC games, but the concession offerings at Conte are absolutely the worst in Hockey East (I can’t speak to ACC basketball venues). Some of the new stands they’ve introduced have helped (pulled pork, the meatball stand, flavored popcorn) but the generic concession options at the main stands are just bad. The options are limited and the food tastes bad. I have no idea how long their current concession contract is but they need to find something new when they can.
The food would honestly be better if it was straight up just menu items from Corcoran Commons or Hillside rather than what they have now. (Actually a Hillside sandwich and chip stand, or a cheesesteak stand from Lower, would be incredible.)
The sound system
For whatever reason this only seems to be an issue at hockey games (or maybe it’s just that my seats are right under a speaker) but they need to do something about the sound mix at games - the way the band is mic’d up really does no favors to how they sound, and the volume of some of what comes on the PA is just over the top.
Rearrange the location of the band and hockey student section
We’ve yammered on about this before. At the end of the day obviously it’s going to take a concerted grassroots effort by students to decide they want to create a better buzz in the arena, but relocating the student section to one combined area rather than having them split up would certainly help.
This is kind of an odd one I know but I’d like to see the banners in the rafters streamlined to make the big ones really stand out. From my seats I can’t see the 5 national championship banners for men’s hockey (which should really stand out and be prominent from all the rest, perhaps hanging lower than some of the others right near the center of the roof). I’m not sure we need to have banners for every tournament appearance and NIT appearance up on the roof - could we integrate those in to the concourse banners? Same deal with having separate banners for the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen in addition to tournament appearances.
If you could arrange the banners such that everyone in attendance can see men’s hockey’s national titles, and the four sports’ conference championships, that would be a nice, positive change. Move some of the others to the concourse area up on the walls.
BC has experimented with loyalty programs, offering various rewards for going to every football game and offering season ticket holder concession discount cards. A “Conte Club” loyalty program that stretches across men’s and women’s basketball and hockey would be kind of neat, with various levels of attendance allowing you to unlock discounts, free food, premium experiences (once we build them!), or some sort of end-of-season thank you to those who have attended X% of games across multiple sports.
I know we have some former varsity athletes among the readership/commentariat so they might have more extensive thoughts than I do about what other needs Conte has from an administrative sense, as obviously it’s also the office space home for numerous sports teams. The impression I get from friends on various teams is that pretty much everyone needs more space. Would it be possible to build a smaller, nice facility that houses the offices of the Newton-based teams over on Newton Campus? Or use Brighton in some way? I’m not the expert on this one but would love to hear from people who do know.
Additionally, what would improve your fan experience? We know the administration regularly reads the posts and comments here, so your ideas might make a difference. We also know it’s really easy to spend someone else’s money, so some of these ideas might not actually be feasible - but some could be, and they could help make Conte more fan-friendly for the next few decades.