April 12, 2010

Big City Lacrosse and an [even] bigger Stadium

Of all the sports stories I've broached in the 4 or 5 months of TES existence, I've never felt the need to mention college lacrosse - until now.
The New Meadowlands Stadium opened with college lacrosse, in what
officials are calling a "soft open," to prepare for...you guessed it...a Bon Jovi concert.

Why, you ask?  Well, because this past Saturday a college lacrosse event officially opened the new Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey.  The future home to the NFL's Giants and Jets, the stadium played host to a triple-header of top-notch lacrosse action in an event known as the Konica Minolta Big City Classic.  The three games featured two-time defending national champions Syracuse squaring off against Princeton, tenth-ranked Hofstra meeting Colonial Athletic Association rival Delaware, and a meeting between the nation's last two undefeated men's lacrosse teams: the number-one ranked Virginia Cavaliers and the number-two ranked North Carolina Tarheels.

No. 1 rule for playing defense in college lacrosse?  Throw off your 
opponent by yelling, "Say hi to your mother for me."

Syracuse, Hofstra, and Virginia were the winners on the day, but, by setting the record for the largest crowd to ever watch regular season college lacrosse - with 25,710 - and opening the $1.6 billion facility, the second annual Big City Classic was a victory for the sport of lacrosse (the inaugural BCC was played in Giants Stadium in 2009).

Interestingly, the KMBCC is not the only event-oriented NCAA lacrosse double/triple-headers taking part in an NFL stadium this season.  Back in March, the college lacrosse season opened at M&T Bank Stadium with the Konica Minolta Face Off Classic.  In its fourth year of existence, the KMFOC drew 19,742 fans to the Baltimore Ravens' home field to watch Maryland, Duke, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame and Loyola take part in afternoon action.

This upcoming weekend the M&T Bank Stadium will again play host to college lacrosse for the second annual Smartlink Day of Rivals.  Army and Navy will play the first game and Maryland and Johns Hopkins will conclude the double-header under the lights (game time is set for 6.30 pm).

Returning to the new Meadowlands Stadium, how did the new building fare in its debut?  Well, there were a few hiccups: Jets owner Woody Johnson was puzzled when the elevator to his suite never came, parking attendants couldn't direct fans to the proper lots, and concessions stand offerings were scaled back.  One stadium official, when asked whether concessions were being sold beyond the concourse level, simply replied, "I don't think so.  Maybe.  It's the first day.  No one really knows what's going on."

For his part, Jets owner Johnson was optimistic: "This building is still a couple years away from really being completed.  This place is still evolving, but I love the way it looks.  This is ten years' worth of work.  But we're still getting ready."  Why is it a couple years away from being completed?  What's left to do?  And what does Johnson mean by "still evolving" --- have the rats not entered the building yet?

"Still evolving?"  That kind of talk can get you in trouble 
with creationist Jets fans.

Fan reactions varied.  One 25-year Giants season ticket holder told the New York Daily News that he thought the new digs have "less of a Giants feel to it," and are "way too neutral for me."  However, another Giants fan was so impressed by the facility that he thinks "the players are going to play better in a place like this."

We know that's not possible in new Major League Baseball stadiums, no matter how much leagues try to convince fans that new facilities can improve on-field play - as outlined by this blog on Field of Schemes.  But analyzing the discourse of recent stadium openings - like the new Yankee and Dallas Cowboys stadiums, or more recently, the Minnesota Twins new ballpark (here and here) - makes me wonder if the new Meadowlands Stadium will be met with the same unabashed media kudos.  The minor glitches from the KMBCC aside, the new stadium has to please both Giants and Jets fans - a task that appears surprisingly complex.

We'll have an opportunity to survey the grand opening in September, when the Giants and Jets host their season-opening games in the new stadium on consecutive days.  However, I expect that no matter how "evolved" the stadium is at that point, the media perspective on the new stadium will come up smelling roses.  For what might not get covered, follow this post after the jump...

Certainly, I don't expect there to be any conversation about how much money this new stadium was specifically designed to generate: namely, the 222 luxury suites that will provide both NFL teams with about $102.8 million annually.  As an FYI, because the Jets and Giants procured private loans to build the stadium, even though it is located on public land, taxpayers will not get a cut of those luxury suite revenues (or parking or advertising revenues, for that matter).

I also don't expect to hear about the Personal Seat License debate that Giants and Jets season ticket holders faced in the new stadium (the old facility did not have PSLs).  For the Giants, every seat in the 82,500-seat facility has a PSL attached.  Those PSL prices start at $1,000 per seat for the upper deck seats and increase to $20,000 for field-level seats.  In all, two-thirds of the Giants' seats in the new stadium have PSLs that cost $4,000 or more.  For the Jets, although the upper deck will be PSL-free, two-thirds of their seats will have a $4,000 to $25,000 PSL price tag.

What happens if this plan pushes some fans out of the new stadium?  John Mara, owner of the Giants (and a person you'll probably see in the season-opening game on September 12th), told the New York Times in 2008, "If that happens, it will make me sad, but I think we've provided enough options for people who want to stay there."

Apparently, those options are falling short for Giants fans.  Last month the Giants announced that over 1,500 PSLs are still available for the new stadium - with sales static for the previous two months.  This news, coupled with a second round of PSL price adjustments for the Jets, has the Times' Richard Sandomir declaring sellouts as "the next battle for Jets and Giants."

Again, probably not topics that will be covered by the media on opening day, so it is interesting to have some context.  By the way, if you think that successful sports franchises need these kind of financial models to succeed, I want you to consider the model in place in the German Bundesliga, where ticket prices are in some areas are kept below $15 and the number of season ticket plans are capped in order to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to watch a game.  Now, there are a lot of variables at play in comparing the NFL to a German soccer league, but what's important is that the Bundesliga is truly a fan-first league.  Clever way to do it, no?

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