With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Big Changes Ahead For Hartford Entertainment?

This week the Capital Region Development Authority accepted three requests for proposals to manage both the XL Center and Rentschler Field.  The CRDA announced earlier this fall that companies can submit to manage or purchase the XL Center and Rentschler Field.   The two venues are the largest sporting complexes in the Hartford metro area.  The three competitors for the venues have very big ideas for what direction Hartford's should go in.  Here is a  look at each and what they may have in store for Hartford’s entertainment and sports district.


AEG has managed the XL Center since 2007.  AEG owns the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings and is one of the leading sports and entertainment presenters in the world.  About two years ago AEG released a performance rating on two hundred of the arenas and venues that they manage, the XL Center was 70th on the list.  In the last few years AEG has attracted major performers to Hartford like Bruce Springsteen, Roger Waters, Rhianna, Taylor Swift and George Strait, showing that they have the resources to bring in the top entertainers of the world.  Chuck Steedman, Manager of Hartford said on “Face the State” with Dennis House, that AEG has the capital to pay top entertainment performers up front and that's what gets these acts in Hartford instead of skipping the XL in route to one of the casinos, New York or Boston.

As for hockey in Hartford, Steedman said at a June UConn hockey press conference that he would attempt to capture a bid to host a Hockey East Championship in Hartford.  UConn was accepted into Hockey East and will begin playing in the NCAA’s top division starting in the 2014-2015 season.  Capturing the Hockey East Tournament and moving it from Boston to Hartford is one tall order.  If you listen you may hear Boston College and Boston University laughing at the idea of Hartford hosting the big tournament, but if it Steedman could pull it off, it would be a huge boon for the city. 

  What has been the downside to AEG?  In 2009-2010 they managed the marketing of the Whale and attendance fell to its lowest point in 37 seasons of Hartford hockey.  The average crowd was a little over 4,200 people per game.  Recently AEG was put back in control of marketing the Connecticut Whale and while the season isn't half over yet the team is currently last in attendance. That isn't a good sign for Hartford hockey. It was just two years ago under Whalers Sports and Entertainment that the team was twelfth in the AHL in attendance.


The Bushnell currently manages Rentschler Field and has gotten involved in the bid to manage the XL Center , joining with local businesses to form the Capital Region Sports and Entertainment Group LLC.  This group contains former Hartford Whaler and New York Ranger Bob Crawford, who owns several skating rinks in the state.  Also included is LAZ Parking, the largest owner of parking lots and garages in the city,  Paul Pendergrast, the former president of the St. Francis Hospital Foundation, and James Carter, owner of Carter Realty.  Crawford does business with the New York Rangers as the team uses his facility in Cromwell for practices and some preseason games which could be helpful if they city is interested in keeping the Rangers in Hartford.  The Bushnell also has increased the amount of events at Rentschler Field under their management.


Global Spectrum, out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a subsidiary of Comcast Global, and they also own the Philadelphia Flyers.  One of the front men is Frank Russo who managed the Hartford Civic Center from 1974-83, as the Executive Director responsible for the 16,500-seat coliseum and 95,000-square-feet of convention, tradeshow, and meeting space. Russo was known to schedule over 600 events per year.  This was back when the Civic Center was a place that had retail, restaurants and expositions, and of course, NHL hockey. 

Comcast also holds 80% of the cable market in Connecticut.  This could be a very interesting point if an NHL team ever wanted to relocate to Hartford, which is still the 30th largest media market in the country.  Howard Baldwin Sr. got his start with the Philadelphia Flyers and also worked with Frank Russo when Hartford had it's sporting and entertainment heyday. 

With bids due by December 17, the CRDA will begin the task of sorting out which company has the best in store for Hartford.  We should know which company will control the buildings by mid to late January.  Whoever wins the bid may have to go to work quickly as the XL Center’s contract with the New York Rangers expires this year.  The concessionaire, Delaware North also has an expiring contract  

It’s not really known who the state is favoring or has their attention. Stay tuned to the CRDA website to see what is in the proposals from each bidder, and also to find out when a decision will be announced.


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