Monday, November 17, 2008

Comparing "Game Day Experiences" Washington vs. Newark

This past weekend the Washington Capitals and the New Jersey Devils had a "Home & Home." That is they played two games against each other on back to back nights; one game in each team's home arenas. On Friday night they played each other in Washington, DC at the 11 year old Verizon (nee MCI) Center. On Saturday night, the game was held in Newark, NJ at the 1 going on 2 year old Prudential Center. I had the pleasure of attending both games with my friend Jim. Jim has been a Devils season ticket holder since 1983 and has excellent seats in Section 24 - off of the "Goal Bar". I have been a Caps season ticket holder since 2006 and my seats are in section 103. Both our seats have similar sight lines and that means we have great views of the goals at the end of the ice we sit and nice views of the plays as they develop at the other end from behind. Basically as far as watching the action our seats are similar so, this comparison is of the game day experience that each locale and atmosphere presents.

Friday, Washington DC. Jim and I met at the Legal Seafood across from Verizon. He had taken the 2:00 PM Acela down from New Jersey and the Metro over from Union Station. He was waiting at the bar when I got to the restaurant. We had a beer at the bar and got a table. The hostess started to seat us at a table in the bar area with the bar stool height seats that I don't like to eat at so I asked her to move us to a table with normal seats and that was accommodated with no issue. We ordered our meals and a bottle of white wine (2006 Conundrum). We each had one of the fresh fish specials, as Jim had already eaten a dozen oysters on the half shell I had a dozen of my own as an appetizer. Our meal was excellent, and while not cheap, a fair value. We walked across the street and caught the warm-ups and the beginning of the game. The atmosphere at Verizon was it's usual warm self. The folks around my two seats in Section 103 who are familiar faces and also season ticket holders embraced Jim and we all had a very nice evening. Though since the Caps won, it didn't quite go as Jim would have otherwise have liked. Jim left just before Ovechkin scored the open net insurance goal to be sure he made his 10:00 train back to New Jersey. Because of various delayed he didn't get home until 4:00 AM.

Saturday, my journey to New Jersey started with a 2:00 Acela to Newark. My train journey was very smooth and I arrived on time at about 4:30PM. Jim and I met up outside of Newark's Penn Station; with him was our friend and his colleague Brian and his wife Mary. Brian and Mary live nearby and Mary had selected a restaurant in Newark's historically Portuguese neighborhood known as Ironbound. Ironbound is a few blocks from Newark Penn Station and the Prudential Center. Ironbound has been a safe neighborhood known for it's excellent restaurants for decades. We went to one of the places that is a little off the beaten track and frequented by locals - Casa Vasca. We had one of the best meals I've ever eaten and two pitchers of sangria. The tab for the four of us was less than the bill for Jim and I the prior evening. We each had a soup, appetizers for the four of us, and a fresh fish entree special. Casa Vasca is actually worth the trip to Newark, even without a hockey game inolved.

While I enjoy Legal Seafood, Clyde's, and La Tasca and all are more convenient to Verizon than the Ironbound and it's neighborhood Portuguese restaurants are to the Prudential Center; the cuisine of the Ironbound, the quality of the food, and the price are all better than we have around Verizon. It's not the Washington Capital's fault; the restaurants in DC just generally don't have the sort of feel and ambiance of places like the Ironbound, or even the restaurants of South Philadelphia or Baltimore. That said, there is something to be said for the convenience of stepping out of the Metro at Gallery Place, frequenting the restaurants around the VC, and then just walking right across the street or around the corner to the game. Perhaps Jim and I should have had Mongolian Barbecue at Tony Cheng's so we had a more comparable experience but since he and I both love seafood, Legal Seafoods got the nod in DC.

Next it was off to Prudential Center for the game. Jim has parking about a block and a half from the arena; it was almost as convenient as when i park in Gallery Place or across the street but not quite and on a cold January or February night the nod would have definitely gone to DC. However, on Saturday it was an Indian summer seventy (that's 70) degrees when we walked to the arena. Outside of "the Rock" we entered as a couple of the "Caps Road Crew" including "the horn guy" were going in. It was $1 hot dog night at the Rock but they asked us where the best place to eat inside was. Jim told them his favorite was the Sushi, but also pointed to $1 dogs (Nathan's Famous) when the demurred mentioning something about Jack Daniel's and a five hour bus ride.

This was my first visit to "the Rock" and I was very impressed. "The Rock" is a lot like Verizon but ten years younger and with ten years more lessons learned incorporated. The public areas are broader and access is even better and easier into and out of the seating areas. The area Jim has his four seats is just awesome; it's called the "Goal Zone" it is in the corner where sections 102, 103 and 104 are at Verizon. However, there are like 4 - 7 rows of seats and a set of five person tables up at the top. Since Prudential Center has a steeper incline the height of eye is basically the same as Loge level seats at Verizon. The sight lines are simply awesome, though i think all the sight-lines in the arena are probably very good. The other really cool thing is behind the seats are two bars, a satellite deli, a separate concession and separate men's and ladies room. It's basically it's own separate area where I never felt crowded or rushed. It's almost as good as having a private box/suite without a lot of the costs. For folks like Jim and I who split the usage of our tickets between business and pleasure it's perfect. The atmosphere at "the Rock is nice, but the crowd isn't quite as friendly; maybe that was because the folks who have the seats adjacent to Jim's didn't show. it was nice to have some elbow room though I'm sure that's not the Devils' management's preference. The crowd was well behaved and anybody would have no issue taking clients or family to games. Although be warned at least several times during any game after the Let's Go Devils chant, the crowd will follow it with a "Rangers Suck". Also the Devils' Dancers outfits show some skin and there might be a few times where the more prudish will be wondering if someone is going to roll in a brass pole. Overall the game time experience has a lot of similarities to Verizon. that said, though I'm biased, at least on the one data point I have the Capitals' current crowd and fan base are generally as engaged in the game as the Devils' but we're louder and more supportive. The food and concessions at the Prudential Center are definitely better, though the ticket prices are all generally higher for comparable sight lines.

As it was a weekend, my train choices home were a 9:22 or 11:22PM departure. Being a die hard who hates to leave games early I picked the 11:22. As the game went to a shootout this was the right choice. My train home ran close to schedule and I got back to my home in Bristow, VA at 3:45PM. All things considered if I had it to do again, I'd probably get a room in the Hilton at Newark Gateway and take an early train home on Sunday morning. If it was a Friday night game I'd take the 10:22PM train - I would have made that one, if there was one on the weekend without having to leave the game early.

Both game day experiences were comparable. Jim likes Legal Seafood and thought the convenience of the restaurants to "the Phone Booth" was a plus. An avid hockey fan, he greatly appreciated the quality of hockey we witnessed at both games. For my part having grown up in Philadelphia, I appreciated the excellent quality of the food at Casa Vasca, you don't get red sauce like that in any chain restaurant no matter how good it is; nor can you get an authentic Portuguese muscles appetizer like that in a lot of other place this side of the Atlantic. Both arenas and fan bases are good. Getting a beer in Jim's section of "The Rock" is much easier then at Verizon but the choices were limited compared to the seven choices I have just behind section 103. Jim's tickets are approximately 20% higher priced then mine but I think I'd be willing to spring for the extra cost if the Verizon had an option like "The Goal Bar" area.

All said both Jim and I feel the Capitals and the Devils offer much better live professional sports entertainment values than their NFL counterparts the Redskins and the Giants. The cost of a season ticket is lees and you get 33 more games; you don't have to sit outside in cold or rain; the crowds are much more civil and nicer to be around.

What's not to like? I'd gladly go back to Newark for another game and I believe Jim would gladly come back the DC.


The Peerless said...

Excellent review...

...except, now I'm hungry.

pepper said...

Interesting take, Mark. I live in NYC and did what your friend did - trained it down to DC for Friday and attended the second of the two via a short subway / NJTransit ride. (I've tried to avoid the late night/overnight train myself and have always spent the night in DC.)

My view, having been to both arenas on back-to-back nights, was that the in-game experience at Verizon is FAR superior to Newark - i.e. music, jumbotron, pre-game intro, crowd response and support. The fans at Verizon are much more passionate, alive, hungry to cheer. In Newark? Much more sedate, or just goofy, like the mentioned random "Rangers Suck" chant, which is at every NJD game. Also heard "if you know Ovechkin sucks, clap your hands." Uh, right. Not clapping my hands.

I will say that the Newark concession workers are much more friendly. Also worth pointing out that I've been in both a lower and upper level seat at Newark, but not in the "goal zone."

Agree that the Devils arena is much more spacious and open. Also, sterile, characterless, hastily-constructed. And where's reference to all the recent glorious history of a three Cup winning franchise that ought to be built into a new place? Nothing but a faceless mural of Devils players, with freakishly small heads. Weak.

But great that the arena was built in an urban area, where I think at least indoor sports arenas belong without exception.

IMO, its DC in a landslide, old-school Ironbound restarant or not.

Usually Frustrated Caps Fan said...

@ the peerless: Thanks, lumpy.
@ pepper: I agree that the Caps crowd is much better, fun, engaged and friendly. On the building in of history I don't think either building achieves as much of that as they could. Overall I too am happy with what we have in DC but as I've said I am a sucker for red sauce like I had the other night...

Thanks for the comments and the read to both of you!

Sherri said...

Great compare/contrast piece, Mark! I must admit that I like the hockey-centric decor of the Rock much better than the sterile atmosphere of the Booth.
Yes, our guests were warned about the $1 hot dog promotion and asked to go easy as it might make the bus ride home a bit "unpleasant".
If you are planning to go to Newark again when the Crew will is also going, you are welcome to ride with us. The more, the merrier!

Sam "Horn Guy" said...

It was very nice meeting you. My friend Sparky,who asked about food recommendations, was grateful for the advice.

You've done a good job summing up the Rock. It's definitely a destination worth visiting.