What the heck, Verizon Center?

IMG_2239I was able to get back to Maryland for a weekend recently and as part of my Winter Classic package I had a pair of tickets to catch the Bolts in D.C.

It’s been a couple of years since I caught the Caps in D.C. It’s been such a long 12 months that I don’t even think I caught a game when I was last home in December 2013. I’m pretty sure it was a Hershey Bears game instead.

I didn’t like what I found when I returned and made me realized how spoiled I am with the Tampa Bay Lightning as my Florida home team.

My sister Wendy decided to use the cool upgrade feature and get us into the lower bowl instead of sitting up in the 400s. Ah, I miss that wonderful view from the corner seeing everything down low and seeing the fortress-like concrete above the lodge seating where paper banners hang.

The in-game presentation and intro was top notch, something I always use as a measuring stick when attending games at Amalie Arena. The use of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ “The Lion The Beast The Beat” was phenomenal.

Now, Verizon Center’s always been loud but man, I felt like I was at a rock concert. It got a little overwhelming after awhile and I had to remember, was it always this loud? And this constant? There was never a let-up of music or something going on during breaks. I struggled to hear my sister right beside me sometimes.

But you know what? The crowd was into it, Sam the Horn Guy and Goat were in their element and the music was way better even though it was deafening. I just want a little less buttoned-up gee-golly presentation in Tampa. Greg Wolf does a great job, he just needs more from the arena and the presentation to help match the energy he wants.

What I was actually upset about was a bit of douchiness to the crowd that I don’t remember. There’s always an air of pretentiousness when you see guys coming in their suits from K Street or Capitol Hill roll in, but this was on the other side of the spectrum. So one drunk guy kept going “Hoooolltttbbyyyy! Youuuu’rrreee the man!!!” And every time the Lighting had the puck in the Caps’ defensive zone he kept pleading, loudly, “Geeeettt iiitttt oouuuttt! Cooommmeee on!”

Then some guy trade seats from the upper bowl with his brother directly behind me and the frat bro continues to chat up a conversation during play all during the second period about anything but hockey. Just kept going and going and going. When both of them were at it, I just shook my head and said “I don’t understand what is going on behind us right now.” The guy to my right understood and just laughed.

Then, during Backstrom’s hat trick goal, drunky mcdrunkerson spills his beer on the floor, all over my sister’s purse and another lady’s bag. Also, my throwing of my hat was futile and didn’t make it all the way and some guy just threw it again a few rows down. It wasn’t worth retrieving.

Combine all of that with the ride to and from. I used to not mind driving 50 minutes to the Shady Grove Metro station and then taking another 45-55 minutes to get to the Gallery Place stop. It’s about $9.30 for the fare and then another $8 for parking unless it’s a Saturday (as it was). Driving straight into DC isn’t bad on a Saturday night, about 90 minutes from Hagerstown, it’s just that parking is a pain in the ass in D.C., and starts out at $20 for event parking and up.

Back in Tampa, it takes me 60 to 70 minutes to drive from Sarasota and I park for $3 to $5 for a very short walk to the arena. And I’m home before midnight.

I don’t know if I’ll be moving back to Maryland but if I do, I’m sure as hell going to miss Amalie Arena. How that neighborhood is now won’t be like that for long. That cheap parking will soon be going anyway once Vinikville gets started on those sandlots. On-street parking may still be possible but probably not as close. Instead, there will be more parking garages to overpay at.

The yearning to be at a ton of Caps games that I had when I was in my twenties isn’t there between the expense and the toll to get there. I don’t think I’ll ever live inside the Beltway to make it ideal. At the same time, it makes Hershey Bears games that much more appealing as an alternative.

All of this will be moot in 12 days when I’ll see the Caps play outdoors at the Winter Classic. Save for a longer, more crowded Metro ride. And perhaps, a hangover.


Lightning in-game entertainment needs to help fans be louder

Despite having the Minnesota Wild in Amalie Arena, it was still a Saturday. And it was still a little too silent.

Save for a quick burst of all three goals scored in the second period and the flurry of saves made by Ben Bishop in the waning seconds of the game, Lighting fans were too quiet, myself included. Players might say they don’t pay attention to how many people show up for a game (OK, only Panthers players say this and lie) but they certainly feed off of a crowd’s energy.

What the issue is that the in-game entertainment lacks call to action. In between all the charity spotlights, ticket promotions and  kiss cams, the things that get the crowd going en masse aren’t there.

Instead of being led by the giant screen to chant “Let’s Go Bolts” or “Let’s Go Tampa” the crowd is simply told to “Make Some Noise.” Over and over and over again.

The Sticks Of Fire gang do their part in the upper bowl of the arena, but it doesn’t carry though in most instances and because of the complexity of the chants (or maybe length) they take some getting used to. (That and even when they shouted I still couldn’t make out everything they were saying across the way in Section 313.) The group is getting a lot of media attention, but it’s activation in arena hasn’t followed as much as it should and same goes for Facebook where the group has only 921 fans out of a Lightning fan base of tens of thousands. Shit, Sam The Horn guy—a man who solely blows a vuvuzela at the Verizon Center to elicit “Let’s Go Caps” has 3,292 followers on Twitter.

ESPN The Magazine praised the electrifying arena, but folks, there’s another level to get to. It needs to be much louder for longer and at points, deafening. I’m a little biased here being in plenty of games at the Verizon Center and my ears would ring.

Let’s talk solutions, shall we?

•Just get back to basics and start small. Lead us. Give us something to say. We need direction in a game with a lot going on. Go Bolts Go or Let’s Go Lightning. Something. What’s not working is overusing “Be The Thunder” as a rallying cry because it only works for the beginning of the game. Any other time, the call to action loses momentum. It’s not exactly something you can chant either because the fans are supposed to be the thunder. Yelling it doesn’t make any sense.

•Coming out of a commercial break, play some sort of short montage video to start a rally cry and get somebody well-loved from Tampa Bay and shout “Let’s Go Boooooooollllts.” Dick Vitale doesn’t have the energy in his video and just don’t get any politicians or bureaucrat in the video and we’ll be fine.

•Embrace the Sticks Of Fire chants. Feature them in the game, especially during if the game is scoreless or the Bolts are trailing, to get the energy up in the building. This can almost be like the “Unleash the Fury” moment that worked so well in the Verizon Center. (Certainly PA announcer Wes Johnson does his part when his head explodes each game.)

Start simple. Do “I believe that we will win” in the third period, with the camera on them to lead the way and have the words up on the screen. We all know you have the real estate to work with on that jumbotron. And then go from there. The Caps have set it up with both Sam and another guy called Goat, who has a strong set of chords where he will scream “Let’s Go Caps” and the entire arena can hear him and join in. The cameras typically show him once a game to get the crowd going now.

That should give the Lightning and fans a starting point. The team and fans are making strides to make it a hostile place for visiting teams, but there’s more to do. I can at least be thankful that we’ve moved away from a fiddler doing “Cotton Eyed Joe” every game.