This past Saturday, my friends and I had the opportunity to venture out to the newest, shining example of what a state-of-the-art Hockey arena is supposed to be -- The Rock in Newark. Having already been lucky enough to fall in love with both the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, I was really excited to see the newest of the new in all it’s shining splendor.
Well…. Um…. Uh…. It IS big alright! Massive actually with it’s towering expanse of open air ceilings and glass walls. But to me, it seemed oddly vacant. Perhaps I’m just so used to being cramped into a 10 foot concourse at the Coliseum that this massive runway that circled the rink just felt barren. Surely there are beautiful restaurants and lounges with sponsors like Beleveder Vodka, but they are not anything the general public can enter. For these areas you need “special” tickets with “special” price tags. This was something not readily identifiable except for the uniformed employees guarding each and every entrance who perpetually ask to see your ticket.
There were plenty of food court concessions with prices that seemed well in line what I was already paying at the Coliseum. Perhaps just slightly higher on the bigger ticket items such as sushi. But the water was $4.00 in Newark too and so forth. There was beer to be had at almost every food stand, and a few beer only vendors as well. However, there wasn’t a drop of wine to be found with the exception of the restaurants, most of which I wasn’t allowed into. It seems the NJ State Liquor Authority has differing views from NY on how you can distribute wine. Having had a valid NY State Liquor license when I owned a restaurant, back in the day, I took this up with many a Prudential Center employee. They all agreed with me. It was nuts.
Needless to say, I had less than a great time yesterday for numerous reasons. The Islander 4 - 2 loss was only part of it. Feeling like I was on the Titanic and had only a Steerage pass was the bulk of it. When I returned home to the Island to tell my husband my tale of woe, he shook his head and said to me “See? Be careful what you wish for. They’ll build a new arena in Uniondale and we’ll never be able to afford the seats.”
BINGO! It was then that it struck me; he was so very right. We have purchased three seats in the 200s for a good number of years now. Our largest yearly investment in the team has been $7800.00, not easy for a struggling, middle-class family. This year, with the economy the way it is, we have had to reduce our investment in our Hockey entertainment, and if things don’t pick up with the markets and gas prices, it may have to end altogether.
How difficult will it be when there is a brand new building with all the amenities and additional seating? How will a modest family be able to afford a full season package in the equivalent of Section 200 without having to sell off body parts? How? We won’t.
I checked the website and although the Devils give the same full season discount courtesy that the Islanders do, the tickets are still almost $80 each for what would be equivalent to where I currently sit. Certainly I could move to the upper, upper tiers and pay considerably reduced rates, but the enjoyment factor for us would be greatly reduced. And by the way, as I was sitting in Section 117 yesterday, I noticed that although the seats DID include a very handy cup holder, they were no wider than the old seats I currently have at the Coliseum. The airy feeling is left out on the concourse; you are a sardine at your seat.
Additionally, although the arena is only a few months old, I managed to sit in gum at the only restaurant we were allowed into. It was a good thing I was wearing jeans, or I would have been even more livid than I was.
Here is the financial dilemma for this sport as explained to me this morning by a good friend of mine who has been in this business for almost as long as I’ve been alive. “The success or failure of The Rock hinges on the upper class coming through with the dough.” In this business, you can say that about any of the other 29 hockey dens. It’s about catering to those who can afford it. Luxury items with luxury price tags that I certainly cannot afford.
So as I look at what the rest of the Hockey universe calls “a dump,” I will enjoy it while I can afford it. I will no longer scoff at having to pay $7.00 for a red wine with a screw cap from the lady selling pretzels, when I had to pay $10 for a 6 oz glass from a bartender that looked down her nose at me in Newark. I will enjoy my crowded hallways where I can always find my friends and not have to hang onto them for dear life in the expanse that looked like LAX. (I had friends sitting one section away from me and I never saw them.)
The day will come when a shining new state-of-the-art arena will grace Nassau County. I can only hope that the atmosphere will not be the same money structured caste system as I witnessed yesterday. Or at least, if it has to be -- I hope I can afford to still get in.