I've worked quite a few basketball games this season so far and have logged far more minutes in the bowels of Carver-Hawkeye Arena that I usually do in any given season. In general, I arrive at my scheduled time, head to my Hobbit Hole and hunker down and do my thing for the course of the game. It's not usually that big of a deal or particularly hard or stressful work. It's just work. It makes for a nice post-holiday paycheck.
But here's the thing: I've never actually taken the time to really stop and look at the Arena. I'm somewhat plugged into the local Hawkeye Sports Commentariat on Twitter. I see the grumblings occasionally about how bad the atmosphere is in Carver, but I never really paused to consider why that might be until this past Sunday when I slowed down, took my time getting to my Hobbit Hole and kind of really looked at the Arena. I mean, when you get right down to it- what's the point of an arena anyway? There's seats, there's a court, there's a concourse with food and assorted swag you can purchase. In every respect, Carver-Hawkeye perfectly fulfills the basic requirements. You go, you watch game, you get soft serve and/or Carver Dog of indeterminate quality, you go home. What more do you people want?
I think part of the problem is age. You go from 'Historic Kinnick Stadium' which has been carefully renovated to preserve old and new, is full of brick archways and brick in general- and when you're not there for a football game, it's a pleasure just to look at the architecture of the place. (Also, they don't usually add the 'Historic' part in italics, but they sure seem to say it that way over the PA.) You feel the history in Kinnick Stadium. In contrast, Carver-Hawkeye Arena opened the year I was born. It just turned 36 actually (Happy Birthday, Carver!) so it's hard to feel the sense of history you get in Kinnick.
If you look at places like Williams Arena up in Minnesota or Assembly Hall down in Indiana, they're almost palatial and you can feel that sense of history- even if pieces of the ceiling do fall down on the latter location now and again. You get a sense that Iowa used to have that when they were still playing basketball at the Field House (which would have been legit cool to see I think- and I often wish they were able to play a game now and again over there.) Carver on the other is the soft serve vanilla ice cream of basketball arenas: perfectly servicable in every possible way and on occasion the best thing you've ever experienced.
What about logistics? This was a novel new complaint I saw on Twitter. People leave early to get to their cars and beat traffic. I can sort of understand that when we're up by thirty against a team like Savannah State. It stretches credibility that people can't park close enough for their liking. The Dental Lot is right across the street. Finkbine Commuter isn't that far away. Nor is Lot 43 North or any number of side streets in and around the arena. Curbside parking right next door isn't going to be possible for everyone. Wishing for closer parking seems kind of like a bullshit cop-out. After all, unless you're in the Gucci Lot at Kinnick (Lot 43 West) you're gonna have to do some walking to get there as well... yet curiously, people don't seem to have nearly the same issue with that there than at the Arena.
Is it kind of tucked away in a limited footprint? Yes, it is. But is there a pressing need to expand parking for the arena? Not that I've seen.
There's also the little matter of scheduling... when a decent sized chunk of your games fall in between semesters it might require a little creativity to pack the joint... things like theme nights help, but if you're a local and your kiddos are off school on winter break, the price just isn't right for you to load everyone up, go down to the arena, park, get all the kiddos into the arena, get tickets if you don't already have them, find your seats and then get the inevitable pleas for soft serve and hot dogs out of the way... it's not an impossible sell for a lot of people, but if the price isn't right, given the option, a lot of people will just stay home.
I mean, it's not like the Athletic Department isn't trying... there's pyrotechnics now and we had an Ugly Sweater game a few games back. (I totally forgot my ugly sweater that game and was kind of bummed.) I just feel like their sense of creativity is in about second gear (where the senior citizen end of the fan demographic probably likes it) when they should be taking the opportunity to put things into fourth. Throw the spaghetti at the wall. See what sticks. Sell out the Arena for men's and women's basketball- that should be the goal... get some more butts in seats.
Which brings us around the chicken v egg question of it all: does the product on the court help or hurt you? I think it's a little of both. Obviously, when your team is good you're gonna have more fans in the building. But I also think there's an argument to be made that if the overall experience is fun, it doesn't matter if your team wins or loses- though obviously, the former is preferable to the latter.
We tried to go see a Hawkeye Soccer game last year and they had a Field Hockey game going on at the same time. There were inflatables, face painting and people just brought lawn chairs and blankets and people just plopped down at the edge of the pitch to watch the game. If it wasn't for the rain and the lightning, we would have spent a nice, chill and more importantly fun afternoon watching the match. Football is sort of a leviathan. Fans and alumni are going to come to town from all over the place to watch the game and do tail gating and all the trimmings. Basketball doesn't have that advantage- but some thoughtful proposals to improve the fan experience at the arena and to maximize the fun could get more people to go.
In the meantime, I will keep lurking on Twitter and tallying complaints... just to see if a wish list emerges of what people actually want for an 'atmosphere' at the Arena...