Projected attendance at outdoor hockey game means embarrassment

When the University of Wisconsin announced that it would be scheduling the Camp Randall Hockey Classic for February, 2010, it did so with the goal of breaking the world attendance record for an outdoor hockey game, currently at 74,544.

"I imagine playing outside at Camp Randall will be the same type of thing. It will be something they remember the rest of their lives and the fact that we can do it on our campus, and have an opportunity to set a record, that would be very, very cool. I think with the announcement there will be great excitement. I know our guys will be excited," Badger men's hockey coach Mike Eaves said in the Journal Sentinel story.

When University of Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez announced on WTSO in late May that the projected attendance for the classic was 40,000, it appeared that the world record goal would fall very short.

As I wrote about in January when rumors circulated about the then-unannounced event, I thought the school had no chance of getting the record. Now that it looks like they'll be roughly 35,000 shy of the record, the event just seems like a waste of time.

When Michigan State set the outdoor record in the Cold War in 2001 at Spartan Stadium in a game against Michigan, the idea of outdoor hockey was unique and relatively untested.

Since then, there have been four more US outdoor hockey games, one of which involved Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, which drew 40,000 at a venue far more historic and storied than Camp Randall. As one of those 40,000, the feeling I got from talking to other people who were there was that it was the kind of thing you do once in your life and that's about it.

With outdoor games becoming more common for Wisconsin than NCAA Tournament appearances, how could the school have expected a record turnout?

In placing the rink at midfield for the game, the stadium is opened up for its maximum capacity. A crowd of around 40,000, is expected, roughly half of the Camp's capacity. I joked about the crowd at this event looking like the one that stuck around for the end of the Cal Poly fiasco...now it's looking entirely realistic. This isn't like the Lambeau game, with one end of the stadium closed off. The entire stadium will be open, but only one of every two seats will have people dressed as fans, with the other half containing people dressed as empty seats. I'm sure if they knew only 40,000 would turn out for the game, the rink would have been placed toward one end of the stadium.

The result will be embarrassing. By going after a record like this, in a stadium that isn't famous enough, with an idea that isn't exciting or unique enough, and with two teams and their fans that have been there, done that, Wisconsin put itself in a situation in which they really didn't have much of a shot.

I don't know who in the athletic department truly believed they had a chance to draw the roughly 93% capacity required to break the record. With Eaves' quote when the team announced the outdoor game, it is clear he was informed that the department thought it had a shot at the record.

Sorry coach, but 80,000 people do not want to sit in the cold in February for three hours to watch your team, which has been just four games over .500 in the three years since its national championship in 2006.

Interestingly enough, the attendance compared to capacity for the outdoor game will be almost identical to the hockey team's success rate over the last three seasons. 50%.

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