Friend of the blog Patrick Hoffman wrote an article for TheGoodPoint.com and he asked me a six-pack of questions about the on-going Garden renovations. While some of my answers made his final article, I figured I would post the full monty here for your perusal.
1) Why do you think Madison Square Garden decided to do these renovations?
The short answer is because James Dolan is a businessman who likes to make money. The long answer is because Dolan was shortsighted and shot down the west-side Jets stadium. Once he did that, he slammed the door shut on Bloomberg and the rest of the NYC politicos and thus couldn't set up any kind of tax breaks or financial assistance for a new MSG. Without being able to build a new building, Dolan had to find other ways to raise long-term profits and a full renovation was the next-best thing. The old layout only had so much space for sushi bars and other trappings of the rich, corporate elite that Dolan hopes to attract more of. Yes, regular people enjoy sushi too, but not at hockey games.
2) When you first heard that the Garden would be undergoing renovations, what was your reaction? Why?
I was less than pleased, because I saw a dark future in it - a future where hardcore fans and children can't afford to go to games. A future where the Garden is as intimidating as the Air Canada Center in Toronto (which is not intimidating at all). A future where the team goes back to it's mercenary ways where they overpay for names to keep bringing in corporate clients. I was part of a focus group the Garden held with other season ticket holders. The third-party gentleman that they brought in to conduct the group asked a battery of questions, all along the line of 'what would make it alright for them to take your seat away and give you a worse one?' The answer, unanimously, was nothing. The fellow recommended an exclusive entrance to the building, some exclusive concession stands or minor discounts on said concessions. He was completely unable to grasp the concept that hardcore Ranger fans don't care about the accommodations or intermission entertainment options, they care about watching the game.
3) How do you think these renovations will end up benefiting Ranger fans at the game?
The renovations will make everything shinier and make it easier for fans to empty their wallet. There won't be any more limited view seats and there should be less congestion in the concourses during intermissions. There should be more of an impetus for Sather to build a winning team to justify the huge increases in cost but, looking at Toronto again, that won't necessarily be the case.
4) Do you think that their could be any negatives with these renovations? If so, what are they?
See my answer to number two. The Garden will be another vanilla building, albeit one even more full of tourists and businessmen endlessly talking on Blackberries while ignoring the action. Being a Ranger fan becomes more difficult the more they try to make going to games a luxury. In this day and age, what lower or even middle class families can afford to spend hundreds of dollars to go to a game? How many kids will ever get a chance to sit down low and see and feel the speed and power of live hockey, and thus become hooked on it? As great of a hockey city as New York is, the sport is not ingrained in people the way baseball and basketball is. Hockey is a big niche but a niche just the same. When you charge $60, 70 for nosebleeds, how many of the blue collar fans will bring the wife and kids to several games a season? Not many. They will sit at home and watch it on television, where it becomes just another program - like Jersey Shore or American Idol (and with Joe Micheletti doing analysis, just as obnoxious). It is just another case of eroding your long-term fanbase in exchange for a short-term money grab.
5) As someone who attends the Garden to watch hockey, how do you think the renovations will enhance your viewing experience?
Enhance my experience? Not at all. They may add some convenience as there will be less crowds to fight through towards the increased number of bathrooms and concessions. As a Garden regular after the lockout (when I finally had the money to be), I rarely had problems with the crowds. Like many of the other season ticket folks, I learned the best ways, means and timing to get everything I wanted. And, it must be said that those wants are not many outside of seeing the game. A pregame pretzel, maybe a beer and a stop at the bathroom (after said beer). In fact, the renovations will actually detract from the viewing experience as there will be less hardcore fans to commiserate with, less fans to make noise with and less chance I will be able to afford to go in the future.
6) Any other thoughts you'd like to share regarding the renovations and how it relates to the Rangers?
Dolan and O'Neil and the rest of the Garden brass are doing what they need to do to increase revenues and help maintain the building's standing as the self-proclaimed World's Most Famous Arena. I understand that. But, in doing so, the characteristics that have helped make the place one of the most intimidating, interesting and unique in all of the world are being stripped away. The building is stepping further from the gritty Garden and more towards personality-free corporate cleanliness. It is not entirely unlike Disney taking over Times Square and making it 'safe': it is business- and tourist-friendly but it has no personality.