Let us be the zillionth to say: the Frozen Four and Tampa are a perfect fit, and Tampa needs to permanently be in the rotation going forward.
As we know, Tampa will be bidding to bring back the Frozen Four during the next four-year cycle, but we didn't need a billboard or an announcement from the Sports Commission to know that. We can tell by how they rolled out the red carpet for this event.
The entirety of downtown Tampa was taken over by the Frozen Four, with signage and events everywhere. The "Fan Fest" area was full of live entertainment, outdoor bars, merchandise stands and gathering places; the bars and hotels along the waterfront downtown also got in on the party. The presence of the Frozen Four was front-page news in the local papers every day, and the general public in Tampa seemed to be very much aware of and excited about the event.
No matter where it's held, the Frozen Four always feels a bit like college hockey's Woodstock, as our island-of-misfit-toys fanbase bands together for one big party to end the year. Having the event in a warm weather, destination location where people could socialize and celebrate outdoors only added to that environment.
There are a few elements necessary for a successful Frozen Four host:
-There should be a centralized, walkable gathering place near the arena with lots of bars, restaurants etc: Look, I'm from a city, and I have no problem using transit or taking cabs to get around to various destinations. But most fans descending on the Frozen Four aren't. Plus, it's just a lot more fun to have an area around the stadium with lots of entertainment options and the ability to walk from your pregame destination to the arena. This was the great weakness of Philadelphia as a Frozen Four host. There is basically nothing anywhere near the Wells Fargo Center except for the Comcast Zone bar, which is awful. With the exception of those who were smart enough to tailgate, the area was deprived of the festive vibe that usually surrounds a Frozen Four venue.
On this front, Tampa scores high. First of all, there are are a ton of hotels right in the waterfront area near the arena, so fans could stay right near the rink and walk over. The weather lends itself to a fun outdoor fan festival. There's also Channelside, a sort of Fanueil Hall-esque setup with bars and restaurants all a short walk from the rink. In addition, a few blocks up from the rink is a downtown area with other places to go, including popular Lightning fan hangout Hattricks.
-There should be interesting things to do away from the venue for the day between the games: Having gone to a few Frozen Fours now, the general wish for fans is to be near the rink on Thursday/Saturday and use the Friday to explore the area. Tampa may not be Boston or New York on this front but there are options and they're all enhanced by the nice weather.
-It should be a reasonably convenient location to travel to: My issue with Tampa initially was that it's obviously not near any hockey schools, but since there are so many flights to Tampa it's as convenient as anywhere else you have to fly to. Chicago will score high on this front as well since it's a major airline hub.
Another helpful element is for the town to be a hockey town, and though you may find this surprising, Tampa is definitely a hockey town. The impression we got from the locals was that the Lightning are a much bigger deal in the city itself than any other team. You can tell they have a great and supportive fan base, and many Lightning fans in their Stamkos jerseys were present as neutrals to watch the festivities.
The idea of having other warm-weather Frozen Fours is now intriguing after the success of Tampa, but the NCAA needs to be careful to make sure to get the location right. If it doesn't have the downtown vibe of Tampa it won't be as successful. Rather than reinvent the wheel, it's best to make Tampa the warm weather destination to mix in with the Bostons and MSPs of the world.