When all is said and done, I think the Camp Randall Hockey Classic is going to be great theater and a fond memory for all involved.
But it must be pointed out right off the top that, barring an extraordinary surge in community involvement, the CRHC will fail to deliver on its initial mission.
When the inaugural event is staged Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium — outdoor games featuring the men’s and women’s hockey teams from the University of Wisconsin — it won’t set a world attendance record for an outdoor hockey match.
That was atop the promotional to-do list when the games — the women will face Bemidji State at 2 p.m. and the men will play Michigan at 5 p.m. on a temporary ice sheet located at the 50-yard line — were formally announced 11 months ago.
While a crowd between 50,000 and 60,000 will provide a tremendous atmosphere, it won’t touch the record of 74,544 that showed up Oct. 6, 2001 to see Michigan and Michigan State play to a 3-3 tie at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.
“I have no doubts we’ll get 80,000,” UW coach Mike Eaves said last year, referring to the Camp Randall capacity of 80,321.
You shouldn’t blame Eaves for his unbridled optimism because that’s just how he rolls. Besides, his primary job in all of this was to put a high-quality product on the ice. Given the Badgers are ranked third in the nation and a major part of the NCAA title discussion, it’s fair to say he’s delivered.
There’s also a lot to like about the way the UW Athletic Department, thanks to major sponsorships with Culver’s and Coca-Cola, has assembled a series of unique attractions for fans. Whether it’s the public skate — 800 spots were claimed in 15 minutes — the Stanley Cup viewing, the interactive skills area or a game-day warming area laced with food and live music, a lot of good ideas have come to life.
But the act of publicly embracing the world record, and falling well short of that goal, is one of several missteps in this exercise.
If you’re going to put your promotional crosshairs on such an objective, you find a way to make that happen as soon as possible.
For starters, you don’t charge $25 per seat for the general public. That’s too steep. Tickets should have been no more than $15.
In addition, UW should have included the option of buying seats for the CRHC in the 2009 season ticket package for Badgers football.
I know that would have been a somewhat risky proposition last summer — renewal rates were vulnerable to a tanking economy and a suspect football team coming off a disappointing 7-6 season — but if 20,000 or so CRHC tickets are sold in that fashion it gets you that much closer to a sellout.
Just think what kind of promotional hay UW could have made the last three or four months knowing that a world record was in the bag or close at hand.
As it stands, the thousands of folks who have their photos taken with the Stanley Cup, indulge themselves in the Olympic and UW hockey exhibits and watch two storied programs perform this weekend will surely revel in the unique moment.
But a greater opportunity was missed.