World Junior Postmortem

6 Jan

The world  (I mean Canada, and a couple Finns) came to Buffalo, and after eleven days, the World Junior Hockey Tournament is over. What did we learn?

– This is a Canadian tradition, and the rest of us just watch and enjoy. It was a travelling national Canadian festival that came to town, the circus with more beer and hockey sweaters. I attended three games – US/SUI on New Year’s Eve, and CAN/SUI and FIN/RUS on January 2nd – and the atmosphere was festive and fun. But it was a bit unnerving, in an odd but not unpleasant way, to be in your own city but have it feel unfamiliar because all the faces and accents have changed. Case in point: the New Year’s ball drop at the Electric Tower – a sea of red jerseys.

– Despite a few grumblings and cheap political attempts to drum up controversy, most of those fans ate a bunch of wings, shopped a bit, and had a good time. Some liked it even more. No, not every restaurant and bar did well. Why should we expect they would? Anecdotal evidence gleaned from the daily news reports indicates that much of the lessened impact was due to the Canadian visitors being hyper-local: if you are coming from Hamilton, you don’t need to make a weekend of the tournament, you just go home. The Albright-Knox is a good example of a group that did have success – off the beaten path from the arena, it brought in fans with its hockey-themed photography exhibit and the Stanley Cup, and then exposed them to the best of WNY artists with Beyond/In. Overall, somewhere between $20M and $100M was added to our collective coffers, 11,000 hotel room nights were booked (according to the CVB and Business First) and Buffalo can be proud of successfully hosting a tri-fecta of sporting events in 2010: NCAA basketball, Empire State Games and the World Juniors.

– Lost in the shuffle of $50 parking fees and ghost town tweets was the logistical success of running the tournament itself. Larry Quinn may not be able to run a hockey team, but he runs a hockey business very well, staging a coup by grabbing the first ever NHL Winter Classic and selling 336,000 tickets to this World Junior tournament, a record in the US, and the second most ever. In addition, these events turned out well from a sport, theatrical and operations perspective. On day one, there was a mess emptying the arena and getting new patrons in. But the snafu was fixed, and the event went on without a hitch after. This is no mean feat: who remembers a shortage of Zamboni machines, a chain link fence to keep people away from the torch, a luge track that killed an athlete, and no snow on the ski slopes at the Vancouver Olympics.

– Canalside is desperately needed. While the organizers polished up what little we had, and provided buses to get you past the nasty bits, the HSBC Arena has been exposed (again) as an island in a sea of emptiness. Pearl Street Brewery is a rest stop for weary travelers seeking food and drink on their way north from events, eventually landing at Chippewa or Allentown. I tried to imagine being new to the arena, and where might I accidently wander looking for food? In the dark, the lights at the Naval Park are bright and inviting – I might make it past the boarded-up Hatch before I realized my mistake. The Cobblestone “District” is two bars. Main Street is not merely embarrassing, but appears dangerous. Buffalo is not lacking in attractions to draw tourists – it is lacking in ways to feed and clothe those tourists near the attractions.

– Best fan display: an entire section of Canadians ironically dressed as Russians (at the RUS/FIN game), chanting “OOHH! AHH! RUSH! AH!” and holding signs (some in fake Cyrillic) that read “TSN: Total Soviet Network,” “In Mother Russia Goal Score You,” and (my favorite) “Finnish Them.”

2 Responses to “World Junior Postmortem”

  1. Ryan Bowers at 9:12 am #

    Brian: Did you catch Quinn’s press conference? After seeing parts, I get then sense he thinks he’s staying with the team post ownership change. 

  2. Brian Castner at 3:11 pm #

    No, I didn’t see the Quinn press conference – I only read the report. I would be surprised if he stayed – he’d a lose a big payout, and with his heart, he may not want to postpone enjoying it. On the other hand, Pegula may rightly believe Quinn is a big reason the Sabres have become an attractive buy – not because he is good with players, but that he is good with money making and events.

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