A Lousy View From Every Seat

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - December 15, 2010
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By the time you read this, some 109,901 people will have packed into Michigan Stadium to distantly observe a college hockey game for the express purpose of being able to tell their saner, warmer and less ocularly challenged friends that they were there to barely see it happen.

“The Big Chill at the Big House” is a counter to the “Cold War” that took place nine years ago at nearby Spartan’s Stadium that ended in a SALT-like 3-3 tie, when the same two teams went at it for Mitten State supremacy in a battle that made Kennedy/Khrushchev look like bunk mates. Seriously. Michigan-Michigan State hockey games aren’t for the timid. The crowds can become so ill-mannered and the language so vile that Oakland Raiders fans leave their Road Warriors-inspired costumes at home from fear of being picked on.

Now, I don’t want to be a stick in the slushy ice, which can happen at these outdoor venues if the conditions are not exactly right, but this play-them-where-they-ain’t brand of marketing is just getting ridiculous. Initially it was fun. Tap a couple hundred kegs, put 74,000 people into a football stadium and promote it like it’s a reasonable idea. Fans had fun and the players enjoyed skating outdoors for the first time since they were 6. That was then. Now it’s about cashing in on a craze before anyone realizes that sight lines in a baseball stadium only work for baseball, and that ticket-buyers could get a better view of the action if they stayed at home and watched the game on television looking backward through their binoculars.


So while the contests do nothing to advance the game, they do offer big paydays to the athletic departments and professional teams that put on these spectacles. The price tag to create the Olympic-sized rink between the 17 yard lines came to $450,000, which would seem rather lavish for a public university if a fair return on the investment wasn’t guaranteed.

According to USA Today, 60,000 fans committed to purchasing tickets even before they were made available, and more than 100,000 tickets were sold within 15 days of their release. And this was in April. The game sold out, but a few seats remained at prices up to $237 on stubhub.com.

With such success, it is highly unlikely we will see the end to this type of spectacle anytime soon.

Army/Navy continued their historic rivalry at the new Yankee stadium this past weekend, renewing what used to be commonplace before the days of dedicated stadiums. The NHL will hold its fourth Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh next year after making previous stops at Fenway, Wrigley and, yikes, Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. Northwestern and Illinois even found a way to barely squeeze in a football game at Wrigley last month.


Nope, it ain’t going away. And, yes, I watched it. I get the Big Ten network, so why not?

Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes. No. Whatever.

Sure, it’s a gimmick, but gimmicks can wildly entertaining. Look at the shootout, NCAA football overtime rules, car crashes and reality TV. Yet until someone saves us from ourselves, we will watch. And complain from 5,106 miles away. You can get the flying/driving directions from Google maps, if you wish.

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