I love sports. Correction, I love watching sports and I really enjoy watching ice hockey. Sadly, my best sporting days are behind me and with every major joint from my hips down in agony after 40 minutes of 5-a-side football I need to extract my fun from sport as a spectator these days.
I would class myself as a football fan first and foremost. However, for me, football is the third most enjoyable sport to watch after rugby and ice hockey. I prefer contact sport, and football is becoming less and less of one, but that’s another blog post! but the ferociousness of both rugby and ice hockey make compelling viewing and keeps me entertained.
As a young teen, I have fond memories of going to the occasional ice hockey to see the Guildford Flames. My mum used to work for one of their primary sponsors and we got the chance to watch games from the comfort of an executive box overlooking the ice. More recently, I have become engrossed in the game again, but this time watching my now local team MK Lightning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an expert on the sport, I’m not even sure on all the rules and with all the balance of a one-legged stall I don’t even skate but I know I love watching this game!
The reason for this post is because the girlfriend and I recently took a trip to New York and took in an ice hockey game with the New York Islanders in Brooklyn and thought it would be good to highlight the differences between the two. Oh, and anywhere I have quoted prices for the Islanders I have converted it using the exchange rate at the time of writing (1.24 dollars to the pound).
The stadiums used to host the Islanders and Lightning probably highlights the biggest difference between the two teams.
The Islanders play their home games at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The venue can host over 15,700 supporters and even more for basketball and music concerts (17,700 and 19,000 respectively). The multi-tiered venue is host to a variety of bars, restaurants and shops as well as smaller standalone vendors also selling refreshments and Islanders official merchandise.
In contrast, the Lightning play at the MK Arena run by planet Ice. The Arena can host approximately 2,500 fans for Ice Hockey only with all seated views on a single tier that wrap all sides of the rink. An upper level bar and lower level restaurant served by a single kitchen provides the majority of refreshments during a game, along with a couple of small bottle bars and a hot-dog vendor completing all refreshment options. On match days only, a small corner at ice level provides merchandising options for supporters to purchase smaller items as well as order replica shirts.
This is a strange one, on so many levels they were the same – driven crowd hyping, the crowd getting behind their team and everyone just enjoying the experience. despite this, there were differences. There were always going to be differences with the different crowd sizes, but the crowd hyping was done via the scoreboard in New York, whereas in Milton Keynes it’s done with a master of ceremonies. The noise levels were different too! the volume is absolutely cranked up to the max in the Barclays Center – they also appear to have invested in fog horn from a P&O cruise liner that was absolutely deafening, but reverberated through every fibre of me being – I loved it.
I will say that I do feel sorry for the MC at Lightning, a lone ranger in the quest for people to sing and chant can occasionally feel like “Jees guys, do I keep having to remind you to do this”.
I’m not massively keen on artificial crowd noise – I believe if you’re seeing something worth watching, or you need to get your team moving the crowd should sing – simple. The idea of having to be reminded to sing, cheer or chant just seems a bit sad. But that really isn’t a discussion point for now.
The pricing of the two teams I think serves to highlight more of a cultural difference rather than sporting one. Match day tickets for MK Lightning are a flat £15 excluding booking fee regardless of where you pick to sit. Tickets for the Islanders can fluctuate per row, per tier. Tickets fluctuate anywhere between £565 to £22 (minus taxes and fees). I paid £58 per ticket (including all fees) to sit row 1 of the third tier in line with the attacking goal. This was about half I would have paid sitting in the equivalent seat at the Garden to watch the Rangers, but that’s not important right now.
Once inside the on a match day the pricing continues to differ. I made the mistake of just strolling up to the first bar I came across inside the Barclays Center – a very well branded Corona Bar and ordered a pint of Pacifico – “that’s 13 dollars”, “excuse me” I said, with the combination of disbelief and the realisation I’ve just bought a fucking expensive pint of beer in my tone. So, £10.50 for that lead me on a bargain hunt to discover that most vendors sold large cans of beer for £8.88 ($11) but one I found sold them for £7.27 ($9). It put me right off, well, my beer!
A replica jersey sees a different pricing strategy as well. An Islanders replica home jersey with a player’s name and number cost me £131 including taxes. Buying a Lightning one for my Girlfriend, again with a name and number cost me £50.
The huge pricing isn’t something new to me, I took in a White Sox game with a mate of mine when we were in Chicago and found the beers there also expensive, as well as official merchandising. I personally think this is just down to the difference between a major U.S. sport and a minor UK one. It’s big business out there, not only for clubs, but also governing bodies – NFL, NHL, MLB they also like to take a cut of the merchandise so venues need to take all that they can from it. Here in the UK, we see merchandising differently. Even with Football, the biggest sport in the country, merchandising isn’t at U.S. levels and nor would it get there. Fans wouldn’t allow it to reach those heights.
NHL fans were a lot more knowledgeable about the game than UK ones, straight up. They were there screaming at poor decisions and calling decisions not given – you don’t get that at UK level, well, not going to see the Lightning you don’t. It’s not a criticism of UK fans, they’re a lot younger to the sport than their NHL counterparts.
Whilst both versions of the game attract and appeal to families and young children I would say the UK game is a lot more family-centric, but that is probably more down to other factors including pricing. Also, as the game is a lot bigger in America than it is over here you get the group lads that, if over here, would choose to be down the football rather than the hockey.
I do love that the game appeals families and looks to involve the little fan as part of supporting the team, and I think it is something both teams do exceptionally well.
I will also confess, I did begin to dislike the NHL crowd around me for the simple fact they were American. A child behind that said the phrase “just get over the dang line” about 100 times throughout the game, but would say it so slowly that by the time he’d finish saying it the team had not just got over the line, they’d gone back to defender and were re-attacking again! between that and the obnoxious twat that felt he knew absolutely everything about the game and what the islanders should be doing the NHL crowd took some getting used to. This is where cheap beer would have come in extremely handy!
I was however, presented with an absolute gift of a moment as we left the Islanders game. A young son and his dad, exiting in front me, the dad exclaiming in a serious and ever so slightly aggressive tone “It’s all your fault we lost, I’m never taking you to a game again” and this kid, of no more than 9-10 years of age looking up at his dad with the horror that he’d been told Christmas eve that he was on Santa’s naughty list and wasn’t getting any presents this year was priceless! a grown man, full of the overreacting, ill-logic only ever produced by sports fans blaming his young son for his team losing and the look on that kids face – pure magic.
I massively loved going to the Islanders game, no doubt. I will keep an eye on the team from now on and if I ever go back to New York it will always coincide with at least one Islanders game. I regard myself an Islanders fan, if I had to have a NHL team to support, it would be Islanders all the way.
But there is a lot to be said about the position MK Lightning are in. They’re a smallish club doing all the right things to emulate all that’s good about the NHL. But the small family crowds, the much smaller prices to enjoy my time there all helps the overall feeling of being part of the club, being that extra man to help the team.
However, I would love MK Lightning to get hold of the huge Scoreboard and Screen that the Islanders have.