The XL Center is just weeks away from a 35 million dollar upgrade. Global Spectrum and HYPE(Hartford Young and Professionals and Entrepreneurs) teamed up at the Old State House last night to give a presentation on the XL Center to discuss rumors and myths and also shed some light on what the XL Center will be like post the summer renovations. The building will go dark for much of July and August as the upgrades are installed. The buildings mechanicals, locker rooms, restrooms, and building concourse will all get some much needed attention.
Also in attendance was Global Spectrum’s Senior Vice President for Business Development and Client Relations, Frank Russo. Russo was the General Manager of the Hartford Civic Center in the 70’s and 80’s. He gave an excellent recap of the history of the building. Russo was on board managing the building during the infamous roof collapse, he was there when the Whalers entered the NHL and he was there in their glory years when they won the Adams Division Championship. Russo talked about the days when the Whalers had NHL royalty in Hartford like the Howe family and Bobby Hull too. He reminded us that once the Boston Celtics used to play 6 games a year in Hartford, imagine watching Larry Bird drop a three point shot in a real NBA game in Hartford, it happened. Even Chris Lawrence the current General Manager of the XL Center admitted that it is nice to have an asset like Frank Russo close by as they both know the building and the many faces associated with the city’s arena. Over 40 years there is quite a historic significance to the building and its part in the city’s rich history too.
Chris Lawrence was introduced after Frank Russo. Lawrence’s last job was being the General Manager of the Glens Falls arena in upstate New York, before that he worked with Global Spectrum in Philadelphia. He would be on stage to answer questions that would arise from the program. HYPE began the next segment of the program by inviting four contestants from the audience to play a 'Family Feud' style event where questions were asked and the contestants had to guess the four top answers from a 100 person survey that was released to the public a few weeks ago. The survey questions ranged from; what is the most attended event at the XL to what types of events bring in the most revenue, and there also was a question on the branding of the AHL hockey team.
HYPE told me that this was the fastest they had ever received 100 responses from one of their surveys. One of the first questions from the survey was; who do you think owns the XL Center? People came out with some creative answers, and it appears that not everyone knows who owns the XL Center. The answers from the survey were Global Spectrum, XL Insurance, the State, or the City. Some people were surprised to learn that the City owns the XL Center.
There was a question on what kind of amenities would you like to see in the XL Center. One of the answers was premium seating and new food choices. Lawrence addressed those issues in talking about some of the upgrades this summer. The XL Center renovations are to bring the building up to speed to compete with other venues within the state, Lawrence mentioned the casinos in southern Connecticut as a major competitor for event bookings. There is hope that upgrades like new premium seating complete with hi-tech systems to get your food order in and faster without leaving your seat will bring in new clientel to the XL Center. There will be a large bar area that is actually in the lower bowl of the arena. The new bar area will be between sections 120-124, along Church Street side of the arena. The addition will remove about the first seven rows of seating from those four sections. The capacity of the building will be reduced by about 500 seats that would put capacity for hockey games at about 15,135.
Another question was, what type of events draw the most people to the XL Center? Believe it or not, family entertainment shows bring in the most people. There are Disney on Ice shows, Circus shows, the Harlem Globe Trotter shows and Disney Live shows. Combined together they draw in the most spectators to the XL Center, there was a thought that concerts would be number one but even Justin Timberlake, Pearl Jam, and Justin Bieber couldn’t outdraw the power of the family shows. The second highest attended events are from the AHL hockey club. The AHL can draw in anywhere from 160-180 thousand people over 38 games.
Do you know how many UConn games are played at the XL Center? People guessed low thinking there was only 5 or 10 games but there are actually 17 UConn games at the XL Center. They are all men’s and women’s basketball games but that number will increase with the addition of UConn hockey next season.
The question that drew the most attention was a question about the branding of the AHL hockey team. The responses were probably as expected and even Lawrence stated that there probably is no correct answer but here is what people said.
Out of 100 People surveyed:
1 Connecticut Whale - 41
2 Brand doesn’t matter -29
3 Hartford Whale -25
4 No Ranger affiliation - 5
Roughly ¾ out of 100 surveyed prefer something other than what we currently have as a brand but nearly a quarter of those surveyed don’t care what the brand for the team is at all. Lawrence explained that there primary stance is to market the team as Hartford’s hockey team. He said that whether the Calgary Flames AHL team comes here or the Winnipeg Jets AHL team or whomever, they will always try to market the AHL team as Hartford’s team. It is what they have done this year and will continue to do going forward.
The NHL was mentioned and Lawrence stated that Global cannot purchase a team and bring them to Hartford as they are prohibited from owning two teams in the league. Global Spectrum is a subsidiary of Comcast. Comcast owns the Philadelphia Flyers and therefore could not own a team in Hartford. However, Lawrence did say that they would like to be involved in the process bringing back the NHL to Hartford. There are no rules against Global running a building that is home to another NHL team. That’s a story for another time as a new arena would cost about 10 times what the XL Center renovations cost.
As long as the schedule stays intact the XL Center should be new and improved by the start of the fall season, the changes and upgrades alone should be expected to attract people back to the building. Global Spectrum has been busy since they arrived just short of a year ago. They still have nine years left on their current contract to manage the XL Center and Rentschler Field, they have accomplished some great things over the last year and there is still a lot to do going forward.