The Ice Breaker tournament has become an annual early-season celebration for college hockey. With teams representing four of the five conferences in the country, the Ice Breaker is a terrific showcase. Unfortunately, it looks like this year, there won’t many people in the building for the show. According to the Kansas City Star, less than 3,000 ticket books have been sold for the event that opens at Kansas City’s Sprint Center Friday.
“Let’s put it this way, we’re hopeful of good walk-up sales,” said Cindy Smith of the Kansas City Sports Commission. “We need to get going.”
For a building that can hold between 17,000 and 18,000 spectators for hockey, 3,000 may as well be three. If walk-up sales can somehow double the pre-sales, 6,000 may as well be six.
A two-day pass costs a little more than $50 after Ticketmaster fees and taxes, which really isn’t asking a lot for four high-quality hockey games. Single-day tickets are a little more than $34 each (or $17 per game), so that might be a little more understandable.
The event was always going to be a tough sell in this non-traditional hockey market, but I don’t know if anyone could have predicted it would be this bad.
With Notre Dame for the name-recognition, Maine representing college hockey’s rich tradition, Army for that American pride angle and Nebraska-Omaha as the closest Division I team to KC (3 hours), you’d think they could manage more than 3,000 pre-sale.
Maybe the alumni bases for these schools aren’t swarming in Kansas City and you’re certainly not going to find many, if any, students making the long trek from anywhere but Omaha (and even that is a gigantic stretch of expectations). But wouldn’t there be enough intrigue among local fans to come check it out?
At least for one KC-area hockey fan on Twitter, the marketing for the event has been non-existent, despite claims from Smith that the sports commission left “no stone unturned” in promoting it. The KC fan said he didn’t even know about the Ice Breaker until Tuesday.
This must be particularly disappointing for any local hockey fan that was hoping the Sprint Center could one day attract an NHL team. It might be even worse for the Sprint Center’s hope of one day hosting a Frozen Four. Sure, it’s a good sports town, but would it be a good hockey town? This isn’t going to generate a lot of confidence I’m afraid.
Making matters worse, the Ice Breaker is going to be televised. NBC Sports Network will air three of the four games being played in Kansas City, including a double-header of the Friday night games. If you’ve ever watched the NCAA regionals on TV, with half-empty stadiums and all the atmosphere of a library with ice, you’ll know it doesn’t make for the most complete entertainment experience.
With these being the first of 24 games to air on NBCSN this season, this isn’t the introduction to a new audience you’d hope for.
College hockey has an opportunity to seize some attention in the wake of the NHL lockout. With enough NHL prospects in the college ranks and a host of exciting games televised on basic cable and beyond, this is prime time to attract a new and potentially more consistent audience. To not be able to put its best foot forward in front of a national television audience is going to be a bit disappointing.
The hockey should still be solid, but not having the atmosphere that makes college hockey so special attached to it could make this a missed opportunity.