I’m back on the stadium visit scene after a break with the birth of our first daughter, Shayla. It’s a wonderful, exhausting, yet amazing experience. She’s got her Sabres onesie all layed out for draft lottery day. Last night, I went to the Rangers game for a return to Madison Square Garden, a place that I wanted to come back to and see the complete makeover it received from 2011-2013. My first visit five years ago was incredible and despite the flaws, I was blown away by the atmosphere and the unique aura of being in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Getting into a Rangers game always was a pricey venture, but with their recent Stanley Cup Final run and the success of the team, tickets are downright outrageous now. In 2010, I spent $55 for a 400-level seat near the first row on StubHub. Now, finding a single crappy seat for less than $130 on reseller sites is a challenge. I resorted to a weeknight game and was able to find a seat in section 213 for $100. This was an experience I had to cherish as I won’t be venturing back with these prices.
This was the first time I used my go-to route for getting into NYC during a weekday and it worked just as well as it does on weekends. I left my house around 3:15 PM, got to Secaucus with no traffic, hopped on the train and was in the basement of MSG (Penn Station) at 5:00 PM. Plenty of time for me to head outside and take some pictures of the arena. Being a transplant to the region, no matter how often I go, each time I step out onto the streets of Midtown Manhattan, I get this feeling of awe, excitement and amazement that is hard to describe. I passed security into the “Chase Square” lobby to wait entry. The square is certainly a fresher section, but it could use more displays…especially because they won’t let you in until an hour before puck drop (I was hoping for a little extra time). That means a lot of fans milling around on their cell phones. The Chase Bank sponsorship of this “Square” is prominent throughout the building as it is Chase everything. MSG seems to shamelessly squeeze every little dollar out of corporate sponsoring of stuff.
Inside, there is more room in the two-level concourses and the displays throughout are excellent. Plenty of course has happened in the history of this building and I enjoyed checking out each moment and display. Food is much better too, but $14.50 for a Corned Beef Sandwich! Holy Crap! Even though the space is still tight, the introduction of the Bridge really helped to disperse traffic in between periods (bathrooms though remain super cramped). Ah, the Bridge. This is the defining feature of the renovation…a skywalk that includes three rows of seats way above the playing surface, allowing for a unique birds-eye view. The concept is great and if you are sitting up here, the view is awesome. However, the execution of the whole thing sucks and I hate these bridges because for a majority of the upper sections (Row 10 and above in the 200s), the bridge blocks the view of the scoreboard and rest of the arena. Yes, they put very nice, adequate video screens on the back of the bridge, but still, you feel closed off and secluded from the rest of the building. I was not a fan of that segregated feel.. I’m also not a fan of the change in seating bowl as it is essentially an entirely new arena. Granted, while the original design had a gentle sloping bowl and not the best sightlines, it was remarkably unique in it’s circular layout and unobstructed view to the ice as three levels of seating were only separated by walkways. Of course these changes were all done for money as the remodel added a significant amount of suite/club sections at the end of the arena. For the common fan, the in-arena experience is worse off now, which is a shame for such an iconic building.
The atmosphere has suffered a bit too as I noticed on TV during playoff games, it was just slightly not as loud as before (down a notch or two on the volume/boisterous scale). That has nothing to do with the fans though as they are tremendous, with the exception of the rich elite that are entertaining clients sitting in the highly visible lower 100s. After Monday’s re-visit, I still think the fans as a whole are the best that I have seen so far (and I’ve been to Montreal, Toronto and Philly). Their knowledge of the game is excellent, along with their knack of knowing when to make noise and what to do. Not to mention the high-comedy that many true New Yorkers provide in the stands. I’ve never heard so many f-bombs at a sporting event in my life, but I’ve also never laughed so much to myself at the number of one-liners thrown around. It is still a very noisy building and near the top in league, just not to the extent it was pre-2011.
What a game I picked to experience that fandom. There’s only a few games left in the regular season and the Rangers are trying to get the most points in the NHL and earn the Presidents Trophy. Columbus was the opponent and before the game, Cam Talbot received the Steven McDonald Award, a prestigious honor in the organization and a very special ceremony. The game was entertaining and close as Columbus came in on a hot streak. Henrik (love that chant) kept the game at 2-2 as he was his usual stellar self, until midway thru the third when ex-Ranger Brandon Dubinsky gave the Jackets the lead. The Rangers pressured late and with the goalie pulled, Derek Stepan tied the game with 27.5 seconds left. An exciting overtime ensued and the Garden erupted as Stepan scored again with less than a minute left in the extra frame. Despite my feelings on the renovated building, walking out of Madison Square Garden in the middle of New York City after a crazy Rangers win is a remarkably special experience.