July 10, 2011 in Sports

Venue changes Shock fan base, game for one sunny evening

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane Shock fans begin to cheer as Saturday’s Arena Football League game against Utah gets under way at Joe Albi Stadium.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

From the moment the Spokane Shock announced they would play a game outdoors at Albi Stadium this summer, there was one image that was hard to shake.

It’s of the cyclist who buys an exercise bike to keep in shape over the winter … and then moves it to his patio to use when the clock strikes June, while his $1,700 carbon frame beauty hangs on hooks in the garage.

The operative word being, “Really?”

There’s another analogy about unslicing the bread you bought at the supermarket, but how are you going to do that? Duct tape?

In the end, the Shock’s outdoor indoor game Saturday night was substantially less ridiculous than that and enthusiastically received – 16,233 worth – which probably can be attributed to, in order:

• The impeccable 70-degree weather, maybe the Shock’s luckiest stroke since winning a championship in their first season of existence.

• The accessibility of tickets that were cheap, or even free – always Spokane’s favorite flavor.

• The Shock romping 76-49 over the Utah Blaze. They do keep score.

Thus Spokane gains the upper hand on the Blaze in the down-the-homestretch race for entrée into the Arena Football League playoffs, which at least a couple thousand Albi witnesses don’t even know exist.

Which, in a way, was sort of the point of this exercise.

“The best thing?” said Shock owner Brady Nelson. “New fans.

“I’ve been here since 9 a.m. and as fans came to get tickets, I’d ask how many games they’ve been to and so many said it was their first. And walking through the crowd I’ve been hearing things like, ‘Why aren’t there any punts?’ That’s someone who’s never been to one of our games.”

That would be Rob Chase of Liberty Lake, who brought along a pair of 10-year-olds – Tristen and Kyle – and a copy of “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin.”

And a Hi-Liter.

“I brought my son and somebody at work had an extra ticket, so I had him bring a friend,” Chase explained, “and they don’t need me to entertain them.”

Nor him the game, apparently.

“I used to watch a lot of football in the ’80s,” he said, “but Dave Krieg dropped one too many fumbles and that was it for me.”

Nonetheless, he found the dynamic familiar.

“It’s kind of like melding a regular football game with the county fair,” Chase said. “It’s the same people.”

A handy circumstance accelerated the birth of this notion: Nelson had already started selling season tickets for an eight-game home schedule when his fellow AFL owners voted to tack on another. Why not try one outdoors?

In addition to his desire to reach out to new customers, he had America’s weakness for spectacle and novelty on his side. Think outdoor hockey games – even the Chiefs beat the Shock to that punch across town last winter. Just last week, women’s bowling staged its main event at the 50-yard line of Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.

Plenty of good seats for all those people who were denied theirs at the Super Bowl.

But having already taken the outdoor game and scaled it down to fit it indoors, moving the miniature back outdoors seemed like, well, half a loaf – sliced or otherwise.

This was AFL Commissioner Jerry Kurz’s view, more or less.

“As good as this is,” he said at halftime, “it’s not our game. Has a ball gone into the stands yet?”

Only when Shock receiver Chas Gessner hurled one about 10 rows up after catching a touchdown pass.

“At an arena, there’s not a bad seat in the house,” Kurz argued. “Can’t be said here. Fans are into the game, but they’re not in the game. In this stadium, there’s no replay board, which I think is essential. It works tonight. Would it have the same hook next year?”

But if the concept is not crucial, neither is the hand-wringing.

This doesn’t need to be an annual deal, though Nelson would like it to be. And even Kurz admitted that, “I’m for innovations – I wouldn’t have been involved with arena football from the start if I wasn’t. And I’m glad the test game was in this market, because of these fans. The Shock are relevant in this community.”

In that cause, the outdoor indoor game didn’t hurt a thing.

“Myself, I’ve had three kids since I started this (franchise),” Nelson said. “If I wasn’t the owner, it would be difficult to get everyone to a game. My goal tonight was to let everyone who wanted to come, come.”

Will it bring them back?

“Not unless,” Rob Chase said with a smile, “I had a pretty good book.”

But in a crowd of 16,233, the math suggests that’s a minority opinion.

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