The NHL and Air Force Academy let Colorado Avalanche fans down. We can take some lessons from this debacle.
The Colorado Avalanche hosted an NHL event, the Stadium Series game, at the Air Force Academy. The team was responsible for promoting the event and for showing up to play the game.
The NHL was responsible for choosing the facility and making sure it was appropriate for a high-end professional sports event.
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The Air Force Academy was responsible for running the facility to the quality level of a high-end professional sports event.
All three failed to varying degrees.
The players definitely played a poor game, but that’s going to happen to every team multiple times throughout the season.
The NHL failed to choose a venue that’s appropriate for a high-end professional sports event. Falcon Stadium is for hosting college events that cost from the $30s to maybe $100. The latter was the lowest ticket option for the Stadium Series game, with ticket prices rising to $400.
The Air Force Academy failed to update their facility and practices enough to accommodate the crowd.
Games at Falcon Field are usually attended by cadets, other students, and alumni. These attendees are accustomed to attending, for lack of a better word, rugged events. That’s what they paid for. I feel like the average attendee at a Stadium Series game probably attends more professional sporting events.
The Colorado Avalanche failed to announce how rugged this particular event would be.
All three failed to announce exactly how early attendees should leave to get into the stadium in time. They also failed to indicate how long attendees should expect to wait to get back out of the facility.
As I sift through comments on social media and with my own friends, I understand that most of these perils could have either been avoided or could have at lease been conveyed.
If you look at comments from fans who often attend Air Force games, they tell you that you should expect to arrive very early and tailgate. Four or five hours early isn’t unexpected because you have to get through those security checkpoints.
The AFA failed to make that clear, though, to fans. A quick search also doesn’t give immediate information. And the team’s Fan Guide, which many people relied on, says nothing about expected delays at the entrance.
Why did all three fail to prepare fans for the negative aspects of the experience? It’s possible the Avalanche’s media team wasn’t aware. If you’ve never dealt much with military facilities, you might not be aware.
Additionally, the NHL wants to solidify their partnership with the military by hosting Stadium Series games in military academy facilities. If potential attendees understand how rustic said facilities are, attendance may drop.
And the military simply has its procedures. It may not have occurred to them that NHL fans might be unfamiliar with the rigors of getting onto a military base for a sporting event.
Here’s the statement from the NHL and AFA:
"“Multiple efforts were made by the NHL and Air Force Academy to warn attendees about potential traffic delays getting to the sold out Stadium Series game yesterday. In addition to website and social media posts, and signage along the I-25 corridor in the week leading up to the game, the NHL alerted the more than 43,000 fans who had purchased tickets about the need to allow plenty of time in travelling to Falcon Stadium on game day. As well, in the week leading up to the game, the NHL through numerous media interviews reminded fans about the need to plan their travel based on anticipated delays.To mitigate the anticipated traffic congestion, the Academy opened at 5:30 a.m. and eliminated vehicle ID checks at 12:30pm – five and half hours before the game. We thank the many fans who took advantage of that window to arrive well in advance and enjoy the Fan Fest activities that started at 1pm. Because of this early planning, the vast majority of fans were able to get to the stadium prior to the puck drop and had an amazing experience at the game.Unfortunately, several factors the day of the game came together to cause even greater than expected traffic delays. Unlike many large sports venues, all traffic into the two gates at the Air Force Academy comes from one interstate. In the hours leading up to the game, there were numerous road condition changes and unforeseen events including multiple lane closures in both the northbound and southbound lanes of I-25, emergency pothole repairs that forced further lane closures, and multiple vehicle accidents between Castle Rock and Monument. Despite our best efforts, all of these, added to the already challenging traffic conditions along the I-25 corridor, combined and unfortunately impacted some fans travelling to the game.At the conclusion of the game, as we were routing traffic off base, there was a tragic incident at our North Gate that resulted in the death of one of our guests. Outbound traffic was immediately diverted to allow for emergency response crews and investigators to arrive on scene. While the details of that incident are still under investigation, we are devastated by the event and send the deepest condolences to his loved ones. We thank all of the crews who worked to clear traffic from the base despite only having one gate and we appreciate the patience and understanding of everyone impacted.While we regret the unfortunate circumstances experienced by some fans, a near capacity crowd was in their seats at the start of an exciting night of hockey. We appreciate the efforts of fans who planned ahead and arrived early and most were able to enjoy a fantastic evening with multiple flyovers and musical performances that highlighted the competitive spirit of the NHL, the history and culture of the Academy, and the milestone achievements of USA Hockey.”"
The traffic delays were not due to construction in I-25. The reports are that fans were waiting in line to get onto the facility for hours. And, as noted, no special alerts went out for exactly how much time the NHL and AFA expected fans to give themselves to get into the facility.
So, the lesson learned is this: If you’re going to one of these Stadium Series games on a military installation, you are not going to get what you paid for. Expect to be delayed many hours and to have inadequate facilities for your enjoyment.