HARTFORD — ECAC Hockey Commissioner Jeff Fanter is aware of the difficulties in promoting off-campus tournaments. But, despite an announced attendance of just 3,250 for the ECAC-Hockey East Holiday Doubleheader last week at the Hartford Civic Center, Fanter is optimistic these types of tournaments can work — as both a competitive event and opportunity to promote the sport.
“We’re optimistic there’s a future here [in Hartford],” Fanter said. “We’ve had several talks with the people from Hartford. There’s a lot of interest in an annual event. The people here did get a lot of interest from the sponsors, but the timing was tough.”
The doubleheader, the first of what Fanter promises to be a number of cooperative ventures with Hockey East, was originally slated for Madison Square Garden. However, slow ticket sales there prompted a move to Hartford.
“New York City is just not a college sports town,” Fanter said. “Something could work there, but not this.”
Sales in Hartford weren’t great either, and a 5 p.m. start time on a Monday night before Christmas between Maine and Colgate had much fewer than 3,000 people there. RPI and New Hampshire played the late game.
“There was a 1,000 walkup for the game,” Fanter said with some optimism. “There was a limited time to promote it and it’s not an ideal date. Rensselaer did great selling tickets, the most of the four schools. But there was a small window of opportunity. Colgate had only two home games since we announced the date [in Hartford].”
The questions that remain are fundamental and numerous. Can any amount of promotion sell these types of events? If so, what else can be done to get people to attend, to attract the general hockey or sports fan? Can all teams in the conferences be fairly represented while still weighing the bottom line?
On the last question, Fanter says it’s tricky, but possible.
“Our goal is to put each of our teams in different events,” he said. “We’d like to have some preseason tournaments, but that eliminates the Ivies. We could look for [NCAA] exemptions [on games limits]; maybe that could help a team with their schedule.”
Sometimes getting all schools involved means placing them in a tournament that won’t be hurt by their apperances. For example, Union will participate in next season’s Icebreaker Tournament as the ECAC representative, joining Denver, Providence and Notre Dame.
“Slowly but surely, everyone can be involved, but you’ve got to pick the right places,” Fanter said. “Obviously RPI, Clarkson, Cornell draw the most everywhere. I’d be lying if I said Princeton fans would travel to Syracuse. [So], yes, it has to make some monetary sense.”
The annual Colgate-Cornell game at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum is relatively successful, but even that usually draws only your typical alumni from the two institutions.
The idea seems to be toward creating more cooperative ventures between the ECAC and Hockey East.
“The CCHA and WCHA are limited in their non-conference games,” Fanter said. “We’d like to solidify the relationship with Hockey East.”
The trick to creating successful and attractive events that help create and grow interest in Eastern college hockey is attracting atypical college hockey fans to the games. That is the most daunting task.
“We need to do some more cross promotion,” said Fanter, pointing in this instance specifically to Hartford’s local AHL team. “With the Wolf Pack, for example, there’s a lot of players on Hartford who played in college. We have to take that angle with the fans.
“Youth hockey groups are untapped. They don’t get to a lot of events. Given the time, it can be done. If I didn’t think we could do it, I’d stop trying.”