Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dr. Brainsmart Goes to the Pepsi Center

Hello! Today I would like to take a detour from the primary focus of the blog --  bitching about the Denver Post's coverage of the Avalanche and the NHL -- and offer something new and exciting: my review of a trip to the Pepsi Center on November 2, 2011 for a match between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche.

Much has been made lately about the atmosphere at the Pepsi Center. Crowds for the Avalanche have not been great lately, and many have put a large part of the blame upon the marketing job done by the Avalanche... not only their efforts to attract people to the games with ticket deals and such, but in creating the atmosphere at the game itself. So with that in mind, here is my take on our experience at Pepsi Center.

As far as tickets are concerned, there's no doubt that hockey tickets aren't cheap, but there ARE deals to be found if you look for them. For example, our tickets to this game were included free with the purchase of tickets for the home opener/Forsberg jersey retirement ceremony. These were not nosebleed freebies, either... our seats for the Coyotes game were center ice, nineteen rows up. I have sat closer to the ice before at an Avs game, but always near the goal line, which I considered fine because I enjoy watching the goalies. I have never sat in the lower bowl at center ice, though, and needless to say, it's pretty awesome... I can see BOTH goalies!!! Brilliant! At any rate, there are definitely ways to attend an Avs game on the cheap, although it can be argued that more could be done to promote the ticket deals that are out there.

The Pepsi Center sits in a fantastic downtown location. We arrived by car about half an hour before game time, and walked right in with very little wait. A guy scanned our tickets with his little Star Trek thingy, and as we walked in, the next employee we encountered was a very helpful woman who looked at our seat locations and told us that either way we chose to go at the top of the elevator would likely get us there equally fast. Plenty of young hockey players gave us the opportunity to buy a program to support their team, which in retrospect I wish I'd done. It was two bucks... what was I gonna do with that two bucks that was so important? Next time, I will buy two programs to assuage my guilt.

The concourses were somewhat cramped but not so badly that we couldn't make our way easily to our seats. Plentiful food, beer, and souvenir counters lined the path, and the store (which I did not enter) seemed to have a terrific selection of undoubtedly-overpriced Avs and Nuggets merchandise.

"...in danger of being crushed by a dwarf."
I recall that when the Avs played at McNichols Arena, they'd skate out under a giant Avalanche logo that was lowered from center ice. I'm sure it's bigger in memory than it was in real life, but it seemed like it was forty feet tall and was made entirely of subwoofers and belched fire. At Pepsi Center, though, all they have is this puny little gate that looks like they salvaged it from the center stage of a strip club, which is lowered down over the home bench. The players kind of hop under it, and then up it goes again. Every time I see it, I'm reminded of the Stonehenge scene in "This Is Spinal Tap." It's so silly that they'd be better off just taking it out entirely.

My biggest complaint about the Pepsi Center would be the noise. We've all seen T-shirts (worn most often by the stoner/Metallica kids in the smoking section at my high school) that read "If it's too loud, you're too old." Well, I'm too old. The Avalanche, having confused "volume" with "excitement," have turned it up to about a zillion, and it's just unnecessary. I actually had to plug my ears at different times, including the game intro... it's just way too loud in there. The music itself is fine (with one glaring exception, see below), but the volume is at a painful level. This alone could keep me from attending games in the future.

The intermission entertainment during this game was Pee Wees. In the first intermission, they spent the typical five minutes or so wandering the ice en masse and falling down repeatedly. If you don't enjoy watching eight-year-old kids play hockey on an NHL sheet of ice, there's seriously something wrong with you. In the second intermission, they did something I had never seen, which was to hold a shootout with the kids. This was a lot of fun, and it allowed the announcer to speak some of the kids' names over the loudspeaker, which must have been a thrill for them.

Alan Roach interviewed one of the kids during intermission, and when he learned that their team was named the "Jaguars," Roach asked the kid if he knew that Jaguars can run 70 mph. I could see the kid's face register that this was wrong, but he didn't want to say anything, because he knew that if you do anything to upset Roach he can destroy your connective tissues using the frequency of his voice.

Also shown on the screen during intermission were question-and-answers with Avalanche players. I believe the question for this night was, "How often do you sharpen your skates?" While it wasn't very exciting to hear each and every player answer "Before each game," it's cool to hear pretty much the entire team speak within a minute or so. They should do more things like that, to help make the fans feel like they're getting to know the players.

We didn't sample any of the food at the Pepsi Center, other than the half-pound of cotton candy that was purchased for my boy by his uncle. I can only assume they stopped selling the Bucket of Cotton Candy at the end of the second period, as no kid should be able to have more than one of those at a sitting... if that. Trips to get beers and to use the bathroom were quick, presumably in part due to the very sparse crowd.

If I wanted a 50" screen, I'd have stayed at home.
Many online comments are made about the Pepsi Center's "jumbotron" screen. Although I don't go to a live sports event to watch stuff on a screen and I've never quite understood the complaints leveled against it, after paying closer attention to it at this game, I can see their point. The Pepsi Center is barely ten years old, but the screen at center ice looks absolutely ancient. The video screens get the job done for watching replays of goals and saves and such, as well as for the between-whistle videos they play at 100x volume, but it looks dingy and faded in spots. If you want to see the score or the time of game, it's right there, but that's about it... for anything else (such as shots on goal or faceoffs won), you have to turn your attention away from the ice and to other, harder-to-locate scoreboards. It's a bit like having the speedometer where you expect it, but putting the fuel gauge on the floor behind the passenger seat and the engine temp readout inside the glove box.

Above the video screens are old-school light boards that were used to offer little tidbits about the game or players, such as "Ryan O'Reilly's brother is Phoenix Coyotes center Cal O"Reilly." The problem here is that the board is small enough that they can rarely fit more than half of the little factoid on the screen at once, so it will scroll from top to bottom. If you miss the first half of the message, you have no idea who the interesting little blurb is about, so you've got to watch until that same message cycles up again to catch the first part.

The Avalanche didn't put too much effort into getting the crowd into the game, I thought. During one time-out, they did do a video feature where they would focus on a crowd member, but superimpose a mustache on their face. It was kind of fun, I guess, but there really wasn't too much else going on. Some kids dancing on screen, a couple trivia contest type things, and people dancing like idiots to one of the worst songs ever recorded, but overall it was just kind of a basic presentation.

As I said earlier, the crowd for this game was pitiful. The upper level of the arena was probably 90% empty, and while our section was pretty well-populated, there were plenty of empty seats down low, too.  Part of that can be blamed on the fact that it was a midweek game, and there was a fairly decent snowstorm that day that might have scared off some of the more timid drivers... but overall, I can't see why the team isn't drawing any better.

The Pepsi Center is a modern, comfortable venue that is easy and convenient to get to. Having never been to a game at any other NHL arena, I can't say whether the in-game entertainment was better or worse than average, but it certainly wasn't anything to brag about. For the most part, it was pretty bland, but then again, it's a hockey game... you come to watch hockey, not music videos and "ice girls." The replay screens are old and outdated, and the music is deafeningly loud, but overall it was an enjoyable time, and the venue didn't do anything to detract from our enjoyment of the evening... except for when I was plugging my ears.

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