Long-time readers of this blog, or at least those who have read the bio page, will know that back in the mists of time, before the Blue Jackets were even a gleam in John McConnell’s eye, I was a St. Louis Blues fan. And my first-ever live hockey game was Blues-Bruins at the old St. Louis Arena, a building that, although the grand total of my life spent within its walls was in the range of three hours, has maintained a mythical place in my hockey imagination ever since as simply the greatest hockey barn of all time, ever.
Having failed to make it back to St. Louis during hockey season since 1986, I hadn’t seen a game in the
Kiel Savvis Scottrade Center in the first fifteen years of its existence, although I did visit the team store there in the off-season a couple years ago. So when a work meeting originally planned for LA was moved to St. Louis in February, I excitedly checked the Blues schedule to see if I could make a game. And indeed I could. Tuesday night against the Coyotes isn’t exactly a marquee matchup, but I was mostly interested in seeing the building, and seeing if a Blues game in the new building could possibly come close to matching my no doubt over-romanticized memories of the old building.
I’m happy to report that it could, and that I would love for the people who handle the off-ice aspects of Jackets games to go learn a few things from St. Louis. Admittedly, I went in feeling this way about ticket sales and promotions — ever since ownership problems and a horrible team killed attendance in St. Louis after the lockout, the Blues have been very creative in finding ways to get people back in the doors, even as the young team has struggled. Free food, deep ticket discounts, an aborted attempt at free beer, giveaways of mortgage payments, name your own price for tickets — these promotions have seemingly worked, as the team has had 21 sellouts this season so far, and that’s with a team that is still mediocre. The game I went to had an announced attendance of 17,512 (out of around 19,000 seats). Even with the turnaround on the ice and the growing buzz around the team of late, the Jackets are still drawing 14-15k on weeknights. I’m sure there’s some economic analysis that says it’s not worth it to offer deep discounts to get another 2-3,000 butts in the seats for those games, but as a fan, I’d surely rather be in a filled building.
In any event, my ticket in the tenth row, corner, home team attack twice end cost $25. I’m not going to argue with that. Parking was $10 in the St. Louis City Hall lot just across the street from the main entrance to the arena (equivalent to the $15 lots at Nationwide distance-wise).
The Scottrade Center itself is only a few years older than Nationwide, but it had a very retro feel to me. Tile on the walls, a lower bowl that goes up higher with a proportionally smaller upper bowl. I don’t know if the designers were going for the feel of an older building, but it definitely has it. And I mean that in a good way, as I love the old barns. So I was really feeling the arena from the start.
I enjoyed the in-arena off-ice entertainment aspect much more than that in Columbus. It just felt much more hockey-centered and less obtrusive than the stuff in Nationwide. I got to my seat before warmups started, and they were playing highlights of a 1982 Blues playoff game on the jumbrotron instead of ads. During the first TV timeout, they did a live interview with ex-Blue Jeff Brown instead of a video of Stinger and Mike Todd dropping stuff off the roof of the Ice Haus. They had youth hockey players tending the ice during timeouts instead of scantily-clad women (yeah, I know the Jackets ladies are more covered up this year). Between the first and second period they had kids hockey on the ice, and between the second and third, a shootout between local high school teams. It’s not to say there was no silly fluff — there was a hug cam, and Blues karaoke (I was up on the screen for a split-second singing along to “Sweet Home Alabama,” just in case you’re tracking the decline of my sense of dignity at home…), and a mascot that I think is supposed to be a bear — there just seemed to be less of it, and it seemed less obnoxious than what we get in Columbus. Now, granted, this was one game. No doubt some of my irritation at the in-game entertainment in Columbus is due to seeing the same things over and over and over. And maybe not every Blues game is like this. But it just felt old-school and more like a real hockey atmosphere than a corporate multimedia event. And that just made it really fun.
The crowd was into it, too, even though the game was not exactly a barn-burner. One of my strongest memories of the old St. Louis Arena is how flippin’ loud it was. And there was some decent noise in the Scottrade Center. And one of the upsides of cheap lower bowl tickets is that even in the good seats there seemed to be real fans and not so many corporate expense account stiffs or see-and-be-seen types. Again, maybe this was unusual because it was a Tuesday night and a weekend game would have been different. But I was still impressed.
Can I also put in a word for the beauty of 7:30 starts instead of 7? It was so refreshing not to have to get up ten different times to let in late arrivals.
In the end, the Blues won 2-1. The hockey wasn’t particularly memorable — although this did happen almost directly in front of me. It was a rather typical game of the genre of two mediocre teams more-or-less playing down to each other’s level — something which should be mighty familiar to my fellow CBJ fans.
All in all, it was well worth staying an extra day in St. Louis for. I hope to get back to more Blues games in the future.
I had my camera along and got some shots, although I was a little too far up to get good action shots, and it was too full in front of me to move down.