In what became one of the worst-kept secrets on the planet, the ECAC made official today its intention to move the postseason tournament to Albany. In a news conference today, the ECAC announced it agreed to a three-year deal with SMG, operators of Albany’s Pepsi Arena, that will bring the league’s championship there starting this season through 2005.
Albany becomes the third home for the ECAC Championships. For the previous 10 seasons, the Championships have been played in Lake Placid after moving from Boston Garden.
“The ECAC is excited about bringing our premier hockey championship to Albany County and the Pepsi Arena,” said ECAC commissioner Phil Buttafuoco. “The community and arena have a tremendous track record for conducting first-class events, including the  NCAA Frozen Four. We’re excited about the opportunity to build a lasting relationship with both the community and Pepsi Arena.”
Excited politicians from Albany — the capital of New York state — and Pepsi Arena officials were also on hand.
“The key element is that nothing tops college sports,” said Albany County executive Mike Breslin. “And there is nothing more exciting than tournament college hockey.”
According to both parties, negotiations to bring the ECAC Championship to Pepsi Arena began in April, after the Pepsi Arena hosted the Division I wrestling championships. From there, both Lake Placid and Albany gave presentations to the league and the athletic directors and the choice was Albany.
“Eight years ago we tried and the response was that Lake Placid was doing such a great job,” said Bob Belber, general manager of the Pepsi Arena. “We’d like to bring this event to another level. Both from a capacity standpoint and from the accessibility of television.”
The ECAC made the move despite announcing in 2001 a new five-year deal with Lake Placid. But the deal was never signed, and remained verbal only. As a result, Buttafuoco said the league did what it needed to do.
“If you look at ECAC Hockey as a business, it’s all about brand marketing,” said Buttafuoco. “From a financial and image standpoint, it was the best business decision.”
Officials from Lake Placid’s Olympic Regional Development Authority continue to dispute the timeline of events. (See sidebar)
Buttafuoco said moving the tournament was a matter of practicality.
“We had to evaluate all the aspects of the championship,” said Buttafuoco. “We knew that attendance in Placid was good, but we thought we could do better here. It has become a commitment to go to Lake Placid and Albany had a plus gain in that aspect. It’s also important for us from an image standpoint to have a relationship between us and the Pepsi Arena.”
The technical amenities Pepsi Arena could provide gave it an advantage over Lake Placid, Buttafuoco said. The Pepsi Arena has its own in-house television production studio and scoreboard, as well as equipped media centers, locker rooms, training rooms and lighting systems.
“The Arena offers a vast number of amenities that we can use to enhance our championship,” said Buttafuoco. “We have the opportunity to take the championship to a higher level. Of course, the potential to seat more than 13,000 fans is also a great benefit.”
Lake Placid’s 1980 Olympic Arena seats a little under 8,000, while the Pepsi Arena has a capacity of just under 15,000. Arena seating can also be adjusted using a curtain system to lower the capacity.
One of the biggest factors the ECAC cited in moving its championship was the reduction in travel for its member schools. Albany is an average of 146 miles from each of the 12 ECAC schools, whereas Lake Placid was an average of 203.5 miles away. Currently, there are only two schools greater than 200 miles from Albany (Clarkson and St. Lawrence), and seven schools have cut their distance by over 100 miles.
“Many of the things we were hearing from season ticket holders at schools indicated that they just felt that Lake Placid was too far away,” said Buttafuoco.
Albany has had much success recently with collegiate events, selling out the Frozen Four in 2001 and the Division I wrestling championships in 2002. Next year, the Pepsi Arena will also host a Division I men’s basketball regional.
“Many of the fans that came in 2001 for the Frozen Four are also ECAC hockey fans,” said Belber. “The city of Albany really opens its arms to the fans, much like Lake Placid. The fans will definitely enjoy themselves.”
“We’ll take care of [the fans],” said Albany mayor Jerry Jennings. “This is a first-class event and it will be done first-class.”