After PK80 Invitational, is the Frozen Four next?

Following the success of the PK80 college basketball tournament, Trail Blazers President Chris McGowan stated “there is no question that more of these events will happen again in the future.”  He touted the economic impact, the reputation of teams participating, and national exposure on ESPN as what made it successful.  Based on these criteria, bidding on hosting the Frozen Four for NCAA hockey should be on his radar for another potential future event.

Earlier in 2017, the NCAA announced the host sites for the Frozen Four for 2019-2022.  Going to familiar sites in hockey-saturated towns, many college fans were disappointed it wasn’t located in new, exciting locales.  With recent Frozen Fours in non-traditional hockey cities like Anaheim and Tampa Bay, the loyal fans who consider attending every year hoped for an excuse to experience another venue and community.  With an NHL-ready arena, the necessary infrastructure, and a thriving tourism industry, Portland would be well received by the NCAA and the fans alike.

Host Institution

The bid process requires a host institution, but not necessarily a current college hockey team.  During the last bid cycle, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) bid to host the tournament in St. Louis.  While the bid was not accepted, it wasn’t a first time bid for the city; St. Louis previously hosted the Frozen Four in 2007 and the Frozen Four qualifying regional tournament in 2011, both hosted by conferences rather than schools.  In 2009, meanwhile, the Frozen Four in Washington D.C. was hosted by Navy, who do not sponsor college hockey.  This allows for a number of potential hosts.

When Arizona State University announced they were going to sponsor college hockey, it was implied in their press conference that other PAC-12 schools intend to sponsor NCAA hockey down the road, so the PAC-12 as a conference could be enticed to host the event.  Alternatively, the University of Oregon could use it to generate interest in elevating their own college hockey program to the NCAA level.

Even though the bid doesn’t need to come from a current program or conference, the rink is the closest NHL-sized arena (on US soil) to the two college hockey programs in Alaska.  Interestingly, two executives at Moda Health (the sponsor for the Moda Center) recently endowed a hockey scholarship at University of Alaska, so there could be a potential backing from the arena’s namesake.  Their largest rival, University of Alaska-Anchorage, already hosted a Frozen Four (1999 in Anaheim), so it isn’t as farfetched as one might initially believe.

Logistics

The Frozen Four deliberately does not coincide with Final Four, since the latter is one of the biggest viewing attractions for the NCAA.  It also takes place before the NBA and NHL playoffs begin, allowing for arenas to plan for it years in advance.  Playoffs for the WHL begin in late March, but the Winterhawks already play most of their playoff matches the the VMC rather than Moda Center.  On the flipside, with the Winterhawks already making hockey a regular tenant at the Moda Center, no additional installations at the arena would be necessary.

As is frequently mentioned on this blog, the Moda Center is well served by infrastructure, including six different light rail options.  The large plaza outside of the Moda Center would also be a boon for hosting, with more than enough space for a beer garden, live music, hockey mini-games, and other fan attractions.  

Tourism

Access to outdoor recreation, a world-class restaurant scene, and a reputation for some of the country’s best beer and wine have made Portland a popular tourist destination.  With mild summers that showcase the flora made possible by the rainy winters, Portland’s tourism season hasn’t quite picked up when the Frozen Four rolls around every year.  That said, rainy season is generally from November through February, so the possibility of rain isn’t as high as one might expect.  With less tourists in April than the high season of June through August, the nearly 20k attendees would not have a problem finding a place to stay or making a dining reservation.  Moda Center is also close to a number of areas popular with tourists and locals alike, including North Williams, East Burnside, and the Pearl District.  

Why hasn’t this already happened?

College hockey is very much a regional niche sport, and there isn’t currently a team anywhere near Portland.  That didn’t prevent Alaska-Anchorage from hosting in Anaheim, or both Alabama-Huntsville and University of Wisconsin from hosting the Frozen Four in Tampa on separate occasions over the past decade.  Non-traditional sites require both a host bold enough to take a risk, and the NCAA to step outside of its comfort zone.  The Frozen Four is always well attended, and with the exception of their misguided attempt to host it at a football field in Detroit, the event has a track record of sell outs.  

Nitty Gritty

For the 2015 through 2018 Frozen Four bids, the NCAA staked claim to the first $2.5 million in revenue, then allows the host to remunerate operating costs which is estimated between $350k-$500k.  After that, the remaining revenue is split 80/20.  Their description doesn’t say who gets which portion, but it’s safe to assume the NCAA favors itself in that equation, while also compensating the host school.

Other Benefits

Beyond the economic impact of tourism, the event’s corporate sponsors often donate skates and other equipment, an immediate boost to the youth hockey community.  Also, with both Nike and Adidas having branches of their brands involved in the sport, it will allow them to showcase their products to the world from the vicinity of their headquarters.  Portland’s hockey community has surprisingly little engagement with these local brands, so this event could bolster their relationship.

What Needs To Happen?

Bidding for the next round of Frozen Fours won’t take place for a few more years; the sites were selected through 2022.  Prosper Portland, the Rose Quarter, and any other boards or commissions that would be involved in the bid have plenty of time to collaborate and prepare a bid.  The question is more the willingness.  With PK80’s success, however, we should strike while the iron is hot.

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