Friday, November 25, 2005

After Only 8,640 Fans Watch Drake and UNI Play, Craig Cooper Tells Me Wells Fargo Arena Is 'Too Big And Too Expensive to Use for Most Sports Events'

Craig Cooper has been a solid writer and editor for a long time.

He was a sportswriter at the Des Moines Register and the Quad City Times, he's been a newspaper copy editor and now he's in hospital public relations work in the Quad Cities. He also was a business reporter at the Quad City Times.

I recently wrote a column about the new Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines, saying that the I considered the future of collegiate basketball in the 16,558-seat building bleak after only 8,640 people showed up last Sunday to watch a doubleheader involving Drake and Northern Iowa.

Considering those were the first two basketball games in the arena, I figure the college game is going to always be a very tough sell in the huge place.

In response to that column, Cooper sent this e-mail.

".....Except for the state high school wrestling tournament and NCAA wrestling-- should Des Moines ever land the event--I have a feeling the new arena is too big and too expensive to use for most sports events.

"But big-name concerts will sell out consistently. I thought when the hockey team was announced, the run would be short in Des Moines for several reasons, one being the economics of playing in a brand-new building with more than 16,000 seats when even the biggest draws in the league need about half that many seats on their best nights.

"The other thing a hockey team should worry about now is that it doesn't seem to be having a 'honeymoon' that other new teams do.

"I covered minor league hockey here [the Quad City Mallards] when the team averaged more than 8,000 fans per game. It has dropped off to about 3,500-4,000, but that has happened over 10 years or so. I'd be a little nervous if I was only averaging 4,000 in that building [in Des Moines] in my first year. Even with The Mark of the Quad Cities, hockey rent is considered to be very high because of the quality of the building. It was almost new when team came in.


"If you want to make Iowa State fans crazy these days, talk about Iowa landing in the Outback, Capital One or Alamo Bowl while Cyclones possibly have to 'settle' for something less attractive. Cyclones fans liked it better when the Hawks seemed to be headed for the Motor City Bowl just as GM workers are motoring out."

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: If I were giving advice to those in the athletic departments at Drake and Northern Iowa who make decisions on where games are played, I'd say forget 16,558-seat arenas in the future. The only way the Bulldogs and Panthers should play in Wells Fargo Arena is if they can talk Iowa and Iowa State into coming to Des Moines for a "Big Four" doubleheader. Then we're talking. Iowa State is playing Ohio State at the arena Dec. 20, and I hope the Cyclones draw well there. But I certainly wouldn't call it a slam-dunk now. Iowa would like to play a future game at Wells Fargo Arena in the future. Why not bring all four Division I schools in on the same afternoon or night and do this thing the right way? If that can't be worked out, Drake and UNI should play home games in their own arenas].



Former Iowan Gordy Scoles, now of Bennettsville, S.C., has some thoughts about Drew Tate, the Iowa quarterback who was picked the preseason offensive player of the year in the Big Ten but didn't even make honorable mention. His e-mail:


"I enjoyed your article on the recent Iowa basketball games and Drew Tate going from all-Big Ten to no mention all-Big Ten in one season. It reminded me of Ohio State's Bob White, the big fullback who played in the Fifties. I think he went from all American one year to honorable mention all-Big Ten the next. Maybe Tate has the 'Bob White Syndrome.'

"Let's hope Tate gets over it by next year. You don't suppose he was overrated last year? Speaking of overrated, how about the Big East Conference in football?

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: Gordy, it surprised lots of people that Tate received absolutely no recognition from sportswriters and Big Ten coaches who voted for the all-conference teams. But, heck, the folks at some newspapers [including one in Des Moines that sent a reporter to Tate's hometown to do a preseason profile, apparently were dozing off when the all-Big Ten teams were announced. They made no mention of the fact that Tate was totally stiffed in the voting. Of course, that same local paper made the basketball doubleheader at Wells Fargo Arena appear like it was a sold-out NCAA Final Four event. It seemed to me that folks from the local paper were being very careful to not throw cold water on what was a very ordinary, low-key parade in the new building. It was almost like the local paper had some sponsorship associated with the arena. You don't suppose that was the case, do you?]



Here's an e-mail from former Iowan Richard Hayman, a Hawkeye fan:

"Hello, Mr. Maly,

"Sorry [it's been] so long since you've heard from me. I hope this missive finds you in good health. I've been i-dead for a couple of months. It's interesting that someone who has made his living in technology for so many years could find tranquility in being i-dead...but that's another commentary.

"I have had opportunity, of course, to follow the [Iowa] football team. As I wrote to you before the season, I considered it very important that we Hawk fans manage our expectations. And, I think I heard rumor of some grumbling following losses to Michigan and Northwestern. Both losses were tough pills to swallow. But, a football takes crazy bounces [witness the onside kick] and during our seasons of mega-success we have certainly benefited from a few fortuitous bounces. That's the game. Indeed, that's life.

"My only real grumble about the season was the loss to Iowa State [a game, mercifully, I didn't get to see]. And, it's not so much that we lost to Iowa State as it is that Iowa State, a month later [on Family Weekend, no less] loses to [much improved] Baylor. Yes! Baylor.

"I love Iowa and try to support all of our schools. And, I wish Iowa State could go undefeated in football every year, save their game with Iowa. But, if Iowa State is going to wear the mantle of victory in the intrastate rivalry, I wish they would wear it with some fortitude. If Iowa State goes on to have an outstanding season [which, for the most part, they have], there is little shame in losing to them. But, to play out of their minds, whip the Hawkeyes to a fare-thee-well, and then crash and burn against Baylor...this is just not acceptable. Come on Cyclones! You suggest to the nation that Iowa football is mediocre. And, living here in Virginia Tech country makes it all the worse.

"And, one quick word about that. I know RPI ratings attempt to balance out schedules and rankings but there is no substitute for the week in, week out level of competition in the Big Ten. You take away the top 3 or 4 conferences in the country and Illinois finishes in the upper division of any other conference [including the ACC]. I've seen Virginia Tech grow from a a truly mediocre program into a so-called national power. But, I assure those at home that the footballplayed in the ACC is nothing like the Big Ten. I'm hoping for a Virginia Tech-Ohio State or Penn State contest in the bowls. Even then, though, I reserve the right to pooh-pooh a VT win [improbable though it may be], simply because it is an entirely different thing to "get up" for 3 or 4 games a year. Go to sleep in the Big Ten, get embarrassed. Go to sleep in the ACC, not much change in outcome. I'm sure this opinion will not endear me to Virginia Tech fans...

"Finally, congratulations and best wishes to Coach Ferentz and this year's Hawks, wherever they may go. I love the character and grit of Hawkeye football. Let's go out a winner. And, let's get back to the good old days of crushing Iowa State on an annual basis.

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: I'm sure you'll agree with me, Richard, that this turned out to be a darn good season for both Iowa and Iowa State. The Cyclones can make it even better by winning at Kansas tomorrow. What more can fans of the Hawkeyes and Cyclones ask for than for their teams to both play in bowl games. It's been happening regularly in recent years, and I like it as well as anyone].