Wow! That’s really all that needs to be said about the crowd of 7,421 fans who showed up to see the Tiger men’s hockey team battle Colgate at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday during Brick City Homecoming and Family Weekend. Many people will tell you, including myself, that the number was low—it was closer to and maybe north of 8,000 fans. What an atmosphere! The one thing that was noticeable all week, not just on campus, was the buzz surrounding this game. I went to the Democrat and Chronicle to drop off a handful of media guides to the sports department on Friday afternoon, and ended up having a nice conversation with the man at the front desk, telling me how excited he was to be going to the game. On Friday morning, the game received publicity on The Break Room on 96.5 WCMF.
The one question I have after this weekend’s support, and lack thereof for the other winter professional teams in the area, is have we become the top draw? The American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans, who have been around since 1956, drew 4,124 fans for their home opener at Blue Cross Arena on Oct. 3, then drew crowds of 2,213 on Oct. 9 (the night before we played there), and 2,120 on Oct. 12. The Rochester Razorsharks, the reigning Premier Basketball League Champions, averaged around 4,000 fans per game last season, but don’t begin their season until January. I also have heard through the grapevine that those numbers are skewed tremendously by the amount of complementary tickets given away.
A few people asked me on Sunday how many free seats RIT gave away for the game on Saturday. They were stunned when I told them that none were given away to my knowledge.
It’s amazing what a few years of good hockey at the Division I level will do. When we moved to Division I in 2005, we were known within the core RIT community (Corner Crew, some students/faculty/staff, but little community). Now, it seems like the buzz from the Rochester community has increased by leaps and bounds. With affordable ticket prices, great hockey, free parking, and several restaurants within two miles from the arena, it has become a great way for friends or families to spend a night out.
Another thing I was also told by a few folks, and actually caught a quick glimpse of before the exhibition game at Ritter Arena 10 days ago, was the amount of tailgating going on before each contest. It’s starting to be more like a football atmosphere with every passing season. Also, this was the first time in my six years at RIT that it looked like some sort of homecoming weekend, both on campus and off.
Now, I know we would probably never average 7,500 fans per home game, or even 5,000 playing at Blue Cross Arena, but I will safely say that we have outgrown Ritter Arena. I have heard more than a few people say that they refuse to go, especially on Fridays because the arena gets too packed, too fast and there are never any seats to be had after 6:30 for 7:05 start. Last year, we sold out more than a few games days in advance.
A new arena would be tremendous, with a seating capacity of about 4,000 people at the most. That way, you keep it intimate and close to the action, so the place gets loud, just like Ritter Arena. Then, throw in modern amenities, such as an state of the art press box (totally selfish for the Sports Information staff), and a host of luxury boxes, and we would be set. Now, all we need is some anonymous donor to fork over $25-30 million and we will be good to go. The wheels are motion, now we just need the dough.