The crowd was larger than it was for Red Hot Hockey IV. However, unlike in that edition when Boston University Athletics in a face-saving act bought surplus tickets to create a nominal sellout, tickets either remained unsold or the Garden opted for the more accurate accounting of tickets scanned. Either way, the game is the first of the Red Hot Hockey series not recorded as a sellout at the Garden. This comes but a year after Penn Staters failed to deliver on their self-promotion to fill their allotment of tickets (and take some of Cornell's portion, as they boasted beforehand) when the Garden sat only 83% filled on that celebrated Saturday after Thanksgiving.
This writer loves the perennial nature of Cornell hockey in Manhattan after Thanksgiving. The weekends have become a family affair for the contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread. Until last season, games in Manhattan set Cornell hockey apart, not because it was the only program that hosted them, but because it was the only program whose draw was so great that opponents flocked to see the spectacle and whose alumni were so passionate that they filled the NHL's oldest building.
It was a selling point to recruits. It was a point of pride to Cornellians.
It is better to save one event than wantonly to destroy two. Poor attendance at the third edition of the Frozen Apple, an episode that has been announced already but for which the opponent is undisclosed publicly, should trigger very real discussions about retrenching back to Red Hot Hockey alone. It is best to preserve two marquee events.
This contributor set out to determine which opponents may help Cornell do exactly that. In a disclosure of bias, I must state that Wisconsin long has been my preferred challenger for the Frozen Apple. Nevertheless, the data lead where they lead.
Programs whose average crowds this season surpass the upper limit of the 30% threshold, 5,402 people, are nine in number. Eight additional programs enter the fray if programs with average draws above the lower limit of 4,502 people are included. This leaves Cornell Athletics with only 17 programs as possible right answers to the question of which programs may help the Big Red fill Madison Square Garden on November 26, 2016.
Gross draw is one meter by which to judge the ability of a program to put 4,502 to 5,402 fans in the seats in Manhattan. Equally important is considering how a given program draws closer to home. Cornell Athletics cannot be foolish. A program that cannot fill upward of 95% of its venue this season on average cannot be expected to muster the required fan support hundreds or thousands of miles away on Thanksgiving weekend in New York City.
The mighty begin to fall. Using the 95% home-draw standard to approximate which programs may draw one-quarter to one-third of Madison Square Garden's seats, nine programs plummet from the ranks of possible candidates. Frequently rumored opponents for the Frozen Apple, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, tumble out of consideration. This line of reasoning reduces the list to five programs. Viable candidates at this point are Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Omaha, and RIT.
Eliminating the Competition
Interest wanes through carnelian-tinted glasses as well. Cornellians feel less special because Madison Square Garden is no more uniquely their college hockey venue. Since 2007, no college hockey event at the Garden gripped national attention the way that Cornell's events there did. The Lynah Faithful loved that. The Garden now entertains other suitors which makes the event less élite. Think exclusivity does not matter? Consider why a great many Cornellians sought out the rarefied air of East Hill from young ages. Cornellians need to find a way to stake further claim that New York is their town despite scheduling.
The only way that Cornell can remain élite among the cadre of teams marching onto the ice above Penn Station is if it continues to be the program and the fan base that sells out the arena. This framing invites further reductions in the list of possible opponents in 2016. Any program that is part of or is eligible to be part of any of the other events at the Garden during the remainder of the 2015-16 season or the 2016-17 season is a poor bet.
The Fighting Hawks (North Dakota's newly minted nickname) will not migrate in droves to Manhattan twice in one season. Fatigue of the fan base would become a factor. Games on November 26 and December 3 of 2016 would stretch too thin even the greatest fanbases let alone one whose program makes its nest 1,512 miles northwest of New York City. So, the sense in making North Dakota the opponent for the Frozen Apple 2016 goes the way of that program's historic moniker. Boston College as the other program in the College Hockey Showcase is likewise eliminated.
The Big Ten hockey-basketball doubleheader is planned for January 2016 and the three following seasons. Michigan and Penn State are its first participants. The opponents for January 2017 are unannounced. The possibility that Minnesota may find itself onto an invitation to the doubleheader may depress how many Gophers burrow their way to the concrete jungle even if their participation in the Frozen Apple 2016 is announced earlier. Fans may hold out for a multi-sport extravaganza.
Travelability of Unlikely Prospects
This contributor resolved to reduce a fanbase's travelability to a hard figure. Using the data from all of the three programs's away games last season, this writer calculated the average bump or dip that away venues experienced when the program came to town relative to the host team's average attendance. A bump or dip may indicate one of two things. Firstly, a bump or dip could show that a program brings enough fans to drive up attendance above average or travels so poorly that the host sells fewer than typical tickets to visitors. Secondly, a bump or dip may reflect the host fanbase's interest or apathy in attending a contest in which a visiting program plays. The cause of the bump or dip is irrelevant. The trend, no matter its cause, determines which of these three programs, if any, are sound bets for the Frozen Apple 2016.
Attendance at games in which Minnesota-Duluth and RIT play experience no appreciable increase in attendance relative to an away venue's average draw. Away venues enjoy crowds that are larger, but not significantly so, when the Bulldogs or Tigers take the ice of a home other than their own based on last season's data. Neither fanbase appears to travel poorly.
Omaha, an opponent of Cornell last season and a participant in the 2015 Frozen Four, causes away venues to draw crowds that are smaller than their average draw. The Mavericks during an up season that saw them win two games in the NCAA tournament depressed attendance at away games by six percent on average. As great as Omaha's fans may be in some regards, they do not travel well. Their candidacy for a game 1,200 miles from home cannot survive this poor travelability.
We arrive at the point where statistics can serve us no more. Subjective realities begin to affect considerations. Which opponent could be marketed better? Could the other be marketed at all? Which program would appeal to the Cornell alumni base and the Lynah Faithful more? There needs to be a compelling marketing narrative to drive attendance at an event like the Frozen Apple that demands mass, not niche, appeal.
Minnesota-Duluth is a historic program in college hockey. Its appeal is limited to the zealous. Fans from Westchester and Long Island who watch but one Cornell hockey game a season may not make the trip to the game if Minnesota-Duluth is atop the menu. The Bulldogs's national title in 2011 would be the best way to leverage a Cornell-Minnesota-Duluth Frozen Apple. Such an event almost certainly would fall below the paltry showing of 15,027 at the second Frozen Apple.
RIT presents a possible storyline. The programs from two universities in Upstate New York grappling on the hallowed ice of Downstate makes for a compelling, albeit unexpected, story. Cornell and RIT are known for having the most zealous fans of the ten college hockey programs in New York. Bringing the two fanbases together in the State's premier hockey venue would make for an electric environment. Additionally, RIT's involvement in Rochester's technological boon with the nation's photonics center and Cornell Tech's designs on becoming Silicon Valley 2.0 strike an institutional flourish.
A Second Look
What if instead of limiting the list of candidates to programs that sell 95% of their houses, the net is cast wider to include those programs that fill 90% of their buildings on average with more than 4,502 attendants? This revives the chances of Denver, Massachusetts-Lowell, and Notre Dame.
The candidacy of Massachusetts-Lowell suffers from the same shortcomings as did that of Minnesota-Duluth. The River Hawks lack an attention-garnering national title as well. Denver is an unquestionable brand in college hockey. The Pioneers as fans have been proven to be known by a misnomer. Historical and anecdotal evidence bears that fans of Denver do not travel well enough to risk extending an invitation to that program or its fans.
Notre Dame is the one program of the three added remaining. Few institutions have the following that accompanies the athletic teams of the Fighting Irish. Their covetous appeal drove Hockey East to the absolute dismantling of their bus league. Should Cornell Athletics consider the Golden Domers as a viable partner in a must-sell-out affair at the Garden?
The answer in a word is no. The Irish played a hockey game in the Five Boroughs this season. Yes, Brooklyn is not Manhattan and the Barclays Center is not Madison Square Garden, but a crowd of 3,014 people is a pathetic showing. Furthermore, the game occurred on a Sunday. It conflicted with no football games for Notre Dame. The Frozen Apple occurs on a Saturday which places it directly in conflict with the principal sport of Notre Dame and focus of its fans.
The Frozen Apple 2016 conflicts with not just any football games for the Fighting Irish. It overlaps with Notre Dame's season finale at the University of Southern California. The Trojans are a rival of the Irish. The passion of Michigan fans in 2012 was somewhat depressed because of their investment in the Wolverines's game against Ohio State earlier in the day. The same could happen with a Fighting Irish-Trojans game. Additionally, kick-off for that football game may occur at 8:00 pm on the East Coast which puts it in direct conflict with the Frozen Apple's 8:00 pm face-off. Does anyone among the ranks of Cornell Athletics want to stake the perpetuity of Cornell's marquee mid-season event on the Fighting Irish fanbase's choosing puck over pigskin?
Notre Dame is a bad bet for other reasons that resuscitate the chances of other programs. Notre Dame reports only 10,000 active alumni in the greater New York area. For comparison, Michigan prides itself on 13,200 alumni and Penn Staters number 23,000 in the same geographic region. The alumni bases of both universities dwarf the roll for Notre Dame. It is clear that the Fighting Irish are an unsafe bet for the third edition of the Frozen Apple. What became clear in comparing Michigan and Penn State was how essential historic support for hockey overcame even an almost two-to-one overrepresentation of Nittany Lions to Wolverines in the greater New York metropolitan area.
In rejecting Notre Dame, one realizes that Wisconsin, another oft-mentioned possible opponent, benefits from advantages in the metrics that doom the invitation of the Fighting Irish. Wisconsin draws the requisite crowds in absolute numbers. The Badgers additionally have a history of supporting hockey. Their fans are known as being as obnoxious as the Lynah Faithful. Cornell and Wisconsin have a deep, shared history in the national tournament. Furthermore, Wisconsin as a hockey-loving university has 20% more alumni in the greater New York area than does Notre Dame. An alumni base of 12,000 active members in the greater New York area drive the Badgers back into contention with some reservations as a mildly risky bet.
Another Look at Second Chances
The hockey program of the University of Connecticut was eliminated because it met neither the 95% nor 90% threshold cutoffs. The Huskies have hosted all of their home games this season off campus. The XL Center seats 15,635. So, despite filling nearly 1,000 seats more than the minimum cut-off in this approach on average, Connecticut was eliminated from contention. Does anything else warrant Connecticut's inclusion?
The alumni base of the University of Connecticut is sizable enough to make the Huskies a not-awful gamble. UConn counts almost as many alumni as does Penn State in the greater New York area. A pack of 20,000 Huskies make their homes in the greater New York area. There may be latent interest to see Connecticut play at Madison Square Garden among alumni who remember when UConn played for Big East titles in the same venue. The best efforts of Cornell Athletics and putting the behemoth of UConn Athletics into full swing would be needed to avert the poor showing of the second Frozen Apple.
Good Things from Small Packages
This approach imposed an extreme bias in favor of large venues in its eliminations.What if one considers programs that average almost absolute sellouts of their venues at home but fail to meet the minimum threshold established of 4,502 because their venues are just too small?
Think this is foolish? A capacity Lynah Rink for every contest still would not put Cornell in a bracket to fill 4,502 seats at Madison Square Garden let alone predict its ability to bring between 12,605 and 13,650 Cornell partisans as it has since the first Red Hot Hockey through two iterations of the Frozen Apple and the fifth installment of Red Hot Hockey. Four programs that fill between 95% and 100% of their home venue on average were not considered earlier.
Those programs are Providence, Quinnipiac, Vermont, and Yale. Quinnipiac's participation in the Rivalry on Ice in 2016 and Yale's rumored involvement in Harvard's game at the Garden next season removes them as candidates. If Vermont were invited, it would not be the first time that it had a chance to play in a large East Coast market on the ice of an NHL venue. The Catamounts have failed miserably in all previous attempts in the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff. Poor attendance numbers plague that event despite its location in the heart of the alumni base of Penn State. The event with Vermont's participation averages only 14,512 people over four editions. The latest barely cracked 9,000 spectators.
The four dwindle to one. An intriguing possibility is present in Providence.
Put Faith in the Friars
Providence College is a school appropriately sized for its diminutive state. In the 2015 Frozen Four, Providence appeared anything but small on the ice and in the stands. The Friar loyalists did draw well in Boston during the Frozen Four. A school of 4,550 people drew equally with the 33,421 current students of Boston University even in the latter's host city. That was unexpected. Boston is a mere 50 miles from Providence. Manhattan is farther by more than 130 miles.
There is only one fair thing to do to determine if Providence should advance as a legitimate candidate for Cornell Athletics's consideration. Travelability removed Omaha as a reasonable contender and elevated RIT. How does the same figure, calculated the same way, affect the value of the Friars as a prospective opponent in the third edition of the Frozen Apple?
The first gloss when examining Providence's desirability relative to its fans's inclination or aversion to traveling resembles the data for Omaha. Away contests at which Providence played last season experienced a three-percent dip relative to the average attendance at that venue. Are the fans of Dean Blais's and Nate Leaman's skating wariors that similar?
One glaring outlier weekend dooms the travelability calculation for Providence in a way that it did not with Minnesota-Duluth, Omaha, or RIT. Providence played at Ohio State during football season. The Friars had the natural disadvantage of playing at a football school during football season. If one removes that weekend series when the odds were stacked against Providence from drawing well on the road and their fan interest might have been depressed, the Friars gave all other away venues a two-percent boost in attendance when they were hosted than average attendance. Is it fair to include Providence after this?
Omaha was deemed a bad bet and was not given second life. Why should Providence? Another intriguing statistic reveals the actual travelability of Friar fans. Six of the 11 regular-season games that Providence played on the East Coast outdrew average attendance of the host venue, sometimes by as much as 40%. Readers must remember that Providence's fanbase only has grown since Nate Leaman lifted the NCAA trophy above his head at TD Garden. These figures assessing travelability were produced before that pivotal moment. Providence fans do travel well and travel particularly well on the East Coast.
Providence carries with it the natural storyline that it will be at most one year removed from a national title. This is instantly marketable to even passerby fans and Cornell alumni with only mild interest in college hockey. For the Lynah Faithful, Cornell Athletics could turn to the many classic and unforgettable meetings that the Friars and Red shared when the former played in ECAC Hockey. The personal angle between Cornell and Union, the program that Leaman built in ECAC Hockey, also exists.
Inviting Providence is an unexpected, but fairly secure, option for Cornell Athletics.
Hierarchy of Risks and Desirability
The Big Ten's basketball-and-hockey doubleheader with its unannounced field for January 2017 makes any program from the Big Ten at least a modest risk. Wisconsin has a sizable alumni base in the greater New York area. Its alumni base is half that of Penn State and equal to that of Michigan. However, the Badgers love hockey consistently with a broader fanbase than the Wolverines and with greater historical longevity than the Nittany Lions. Furthermore, every meeting between the Badgers and Big Red on the ice has left an indelible mark on each program. Every meeting. Each contest has been emotionally charged and historically remembered.
This means that Wisconsin partisans will show up at Madison Square Garden if their team plays Cornell. Cornell Athletics should be focused on staking its claim to Manhattan with another sellout at the Frozen Apple 2016. A good turnout is not satisfactory. Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten, has his finger on the domino that could begin a dangerous cascade for the Red's sell-out hopes. Delany has not announced which of his constituent members will tip off and face off in the second Big Ten doubleheader. Minnesota's and Wisconsin's interests may remain tepid until such an announcement. The inclusion of Cornell's invited program in that event would be disastrous for sell-out hopes.
Minnesota's smaller alumni base in the greater sphere of Manhattan and its less-than-invested attachment to Cornell hockey as an institution makes the invitation of the Golden Gophers a gilded option. Their candidacy is a long-shot consideration. Wisconsin remains a good contender for invitation but because of the ability of Delany to undercut an all-but-guaranteed sellout for a Cornell-Wisconsin match-up at the Frozen Apple 2016, this contributor cannot in good conscience say that Wisconsin is a bet of the safest variety. Wisconsin is an opponent of modest risk at imperiling the Red's event.
Connecticut also falls into this modest-risk category. The University of Connecticut has the alumni numbers. Connecticut is predominantly a basketball school. Had Penn State, an archetypal football school, panned out with a sellout or near-sellout in the Frozen Apple 2014, Connecticut may have been viewed as a safer bet. The Huskies benefit from a proven willingness to travel to even their nominal home games. Their pack would appear at the Garden. Putting faith in them to sell out Madison Square Garden for anything other than basketball for Cornell's benefit seems a modest risk akin to the one presented with the possibility that hockey-loving Wisconsin may need to decide among two marquee events within two months.
The best options are Providence and RIT. Both are hockey schools. Neither has an announced conflicting event at Midtown's Mecca in the near future. Providence will be at most one year removed from a national championship. RIT brings with it the Upstate-coming-to-Downstate narrative. Both programs anecdotally and statistically travel well. Providence College outdrew Boston University at the 2015 Frozen Four Final despite a nearly eight-to-one campus size disadvantage. As for RIT, ask fans at the 2015 NCAA Midwest Regional which team was the home team even 515 miles away from Western New York.
This writer announced his bias early. Wisconsin is his preferred choice.
The facts disagree. Providence and RIT are much safer bets for selling out the Frozen Apple 2016. Connecticut and Wisconsin are of middling risk. Minnesota is a long-shot, dark horse contender that Cornell Athletics and Minnesota Athletics with skillful marketing may get to work. Faith should be given to the small, hockey-loving schools if the Red really wants a sellout at the third edition of the Frozen Apple.
Living with the Choice
Cornell Athletics over the last few season has made some suspect decisions. Fans, alumni, Lynah Faithful, and this writer cannot be certain that those with the authority to make such decisions considered reasonable metrics or any metrics at all when deciding which programs to target for one of the Red's handful of marquee games during the season. As unsettling as some of the decisions of the Athletic Department can be, for better or worse, it makes the decisions that influence the collegiate careers of the student-athletes whom we have the privilege of supporting.
This writer's list of four reasonable options and a non-awful dark horse candidate is the best assortment of options under a totality-of-the-circumstances approach for garnering a sellout. Providence and RIT as top contenders is very surprising. Lou Lamoriello's separatist faction probably slightly edges the Tigers of Upstate. Cornell likely can put more faith in the Friars to carry valuable pairwise points. Passerby interest from Cornell University's alumni from Downstate may be greater if Cornell Athletics leverages successfully Providence's status as a recent national champion. Either program would bring throngs of fans. The Corner Crew of RIT promises probably the most boisterous holiday weekend in the Big Apple for all fans involved.
If we as loyal alumni want these events to survive and thrive, the malfeasance or nonfeasance of administrators should have no bearing on whether we attend these annual events at Manhattan as "reunions," "homes away from home," or burgeoning family traditions. The success of Red Hot Hockey and the Frozen Apple depends on us living with what may be a poor choice from Cornell Athletics and pushing for better choices in the future. This piece provides a bar for judging whether those in charge made a wise or poor decision. No matter the opponent, this contributor's family and he will be at the Frozen Apple 2016 barring any unforeseen circumstances to support proudly the carnelian and white.
That is unless the opponent is Arizona State. That'd be absolutely dreadful.