The Connecticut Rams? How the Rams almost moved to Hartford

On January 12th 2016, the NFL owners voted 30-2 in favor of moving the Rams back to Los Angeles after moving to St. Louis in 1995. It had been nearly two decades since the Rams called Los Angeles home with plans to build a state of the art facility in the coming years. However, what many people don’t realize is that before the move back to L.A. the Rams were in an intriguing position in the mid 90s. Back then they were a fledgling franchise that was desperate for a new stadium which led to their move to St. Louis.  Did you know that their multiple cities bidding for the Rams including a city that many people couldn’t imagine hosting an NFL franchise.

In the early 90s the Rams popularity in L.A. had been waning. From 1990-1994 the Rams struggled on the field going 19 and 45 over that span. Like a lot of franchises in the 90s across the sports world, the Rams felt that they needed a state of the art facility to be competitive and claimed that Anaheim stadium in orange county needed to be addressed. By this time team owner Georgia Frontierre began looking for a new home for her franchise and began looking at potential destinations. While the front-runner and eventual winner was St. Louis, there were other cities that looked to lure the Rams including a surprising contender. Who was that contender?
Hartford, Connecticut.

Hartford was one of the cities courting the Rams in the early 90s.

At the time the city of Hartford and the state of Connecticut were looking to become major players in the sports world. After acquiring the New England Whalers and re-branding them to the Hartford Whalers, the city now had a professional hockey franchise since the late 70s. Despite average attendance for the NHL franchise the city began looking for another professional franchise, specifically the NFL. St. Louis remained the favorite offering a brand new state of the art indoor facility with the cities of Baltimore and Hartford offering their own stadium plans to lure the Rams. Baltimore had approved plans for a new stadium and were looking to add a franchise since the Colts famously left for Indianapolis.

Artist rendering of the over $200 Million proposed stadium modeled after the L.A. Coliseum north of Interstate 84

In the early 90s, the Governor of Connecticut Lowell Weicker had developed a plan that would invest in a $252 Million dollar state of the art football stadium in the northern neighborhood of Hartford, just north of Interstate 84. The stadium was designed after the Los Angeles coliseum which could have been directly influenced to bring one of the two L.A. franchises to Connecticut.

Keep in mind in the early 90s both the Raiders and Rams were looking for either a new stadium in Los Angeles or a new market with a new stadium. The Raiders considered multiple locations in California before settling for Oakland with the Rams exploring new out-of-state potential markets. While this may seem like a pipe dream by state officials in Connecticut to lure a team to a the 27th television market in the country, the idea of moving football to Hartford did have serious backers.

Walter Payton and Paul Newman were both in a group that wanted to bring the NFL to Connecticut

Who would want football in Connecticut? Surprisingly, a strong group was lobbying for this idea. Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton was a member of this group and even visited the state to talk to governor Weicker at the capital about the project. Other members of the party included author Tom Clancy, and actors Tom Selleck and Paul Newman. Interestingly enough it was Newman who wanted professional football in his home state and he even tried to purchase the New England Patriots in 1994 before Robert Kraft purchased the team. There were skeptics, but Connecticut was the largest untapped market in the country without an NFL franchise and the city had agreed to fully finance a state of the art facility.

So why did the deal fall through? There were multiple reasons why the Rams to Hartford didn’t happen. First, St. Louis was the favorite and offered a larger market that had an NFL history. It also offered a brand new facility and despite relocation, the Rams wouldn’t need to change conferences or division. Moving to Hartford would have meant realignment for the entire NFL in order for the move to work.

In 1995 the Rams officially moved to St. Louis

Second, it was hard for the Rams to even get to St. Louis. The league’s owners originally voted down the move to St. Louis and only relented after the Rams ownership said they would sue the league. After long legal battles with the other Los Angeles franchise, the Raiders, and their efforts to relocate, the league didn’t want to go through another legal battle and relented despite opposition from multiple owners.

Third, if St. Louis hadn’t worked Baltimore was a better option for the league offering a larger market, another new stadium plan, and a history of NFL football. In 1996 they would get the Cleveland Browns after Art Modell moved the team after 1995 season forming the Baltimore Ravens.

Finally, the league just wasn’t interested in a smaller market like Hartford. I  will elaborate on this more when I talk about the New England Patriots planned move to Hartford in 1998.  While the state was serious about luring the NFL with two consecutive governors offering lucrative stadium deals, it just wasn’t going to lure and NFL franchise given the market size and proximity to larger markets in Boston and New York.  This push for the NFL is a key contributor to why Hartford may have lost it’s NHL franchise, the Hartford Whalers but that will be discussed at a later date.

The Stadium’s original site is now a baseball team for the city’s Double A franchise.

Today the site for the proposed stadium has become a sports stadium two decades later. The site is now home to Dunkin Donuts Park, a 6,000 seat stadium that’s home of the city’s minor league baseball team, the Hartford Yard Goats.  Still  Connecticut football fans can only imagine what could have been if Hartford has connected on a Hail Mary pass to bring professional football to Connecticut’s capital.

If They Build it, Will Whalers Come? New Plans in Hartford Could Provide Facility for NHL Return

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A Rendering of the “Renovated” XL Center. New Arena could finally give Connecticut a state of the art facility.

After breaking ground on a minor league baseball stadium earlier this week, the city of Hartford was investigating the long-term feasibility of it’s current arena. Despite the $ 35 Million renovations this past summer, the study was adamant stating this was only a temporary fix and would at most keep the arena serviceable for another five years. The Hartford Courant has revealed that the Capital Region Development Authority has proposed two long-term fans to not only prolong UConn’s use of the facility, but to possibly open the door for an NHL franchise down the road.

The CRDA has proposed two different options with both involving the current XL Center site. While there were plans to possibly move the arena, the best location was determined to be the location of the new ballpark which is now out of the question. The authority stresses the need for an overhaul of the current facilities stating the following:
CRDA: It is generally recognized that the XL Center’s functionality and ability to generate revenue are severely limited by its age, obsolete design, mechanical systems, limited size of the current building footprint, narrow concourses, limited fan amenities, shortage of restrooms and ADA deficiencies.

Option 1: New Arena
The first option would be to build a new arena on the existing site of the current XL Center. This option proposes that the current arena be completely torn down and built from scratch. This arena would have state of the art amenities and would allow for more efficient loading and off-loading of supplies at the arena. It is estimated to tear down and rebuild the arena would take 36 months. While this arena would be brand new and offer superior sight lines including over a thousand additional seats in the lower bowl, this would mean that the site could not host an event for three years and is the more costly option of the two.

Option 2: Renovate Current Arena 

The XL Center in it's current state

The XL Center in its current state

This would be the less costly of the options costing $250 Million. The benefits to this plan are that the arena could still be opened during the renovations as the upgrades would be done in phases, like how Madison Square Garden was renovated. This option (as seen rendered above), would still give the state a stop of the line facility and is assured by the committee to have the same draw as a brand new arena for an NHL team. However the drawbacks to this option are an extra $ 15 Million dollars to make this arena option “NHL ready” and not offer the superior same sight lines of a new arena.

Both plans are similar in that they both would get seating capacity of the arena down to 16,000 for hockey and 17,000 for basketball. The role of UConn will also be of the utmost importance because for the success of the arena it is recommended that UConn needs to become a partner at the facility rather than a part-time tenant.

While there is no question that the XL Center needs an overhaul, or to be replaced the big question that hockey fans want to know is will these actions bring the NHL back to Hartford?While there is no easy way to answer that question the best thing to say about these plans for the arena and the NHL is this. It’s a start.

A new arena will be much more attractive for an NHL franchise, but the CRDA has said that the renovation option will offer a state of the art venue for a team. Even with the agency’s study proving that the market could support an NHL based on numerous factors, the agency also pointed out that a new or renovated arena won’t guarantee a Whalers return.

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A new Arena won’t guarantee the return of the beloved Whalers, but it’s a step in the right direction.

As a hockey fan nothing would make me happier to see my team, the Hartford Whalers return. This arena isn’t just about getting the NHL back, but ensuring  long-term economic growth in the state.

A new XL Center would allow Connecticut to host more important sporting events, concerts, and shows while giving the University of Connecticut the home they deserve. This is what the state needs to do. Invest the long-term success of the UConn athletic programs and provide the region a state of the art facility. Hartford could host such events as NCAA Regionals while being considered a sight for prestigious events such as the Frozen Four. While this process remains in its infancy the fact that the state realizes the abysmal state of the XL Center is a step in the right direction. It knows the arena is a concrete catastrophe at the moment and needs to be addressed before it’s too late.

If Hartford follows up and goes through with either of these plans then the state of Connecticut’s athletics and entertainment will be heading in the right direction. Then… maybe then, the NHL may give Hartford the call they have waited for since 1997. Hockey fans can only dream that one day in Hartford the sounds of the brass bonanza will echo through downtown as fans scream in jovial delight, “The Whalers have returned”!

To see the full plans for both options at the XL Center click here

A Step in the Right Direction? Or the Final Nail in the Coffin? How new Stadium impacts the Hartford Whalers

How does the new 60 Million $ Stadium in Hartford impact the Whalers?

How does the new 60 Million $ Stadium in Hartford impact the Whalers?

On June 4th it was revealed that the city of Hartford was undertaking a huge project in an effort to revitalize the downtown area. The City announced plans to build a 60$ million dollar stadium downtown that will be completed in 2016. The stadium, which will seat 9,000 spectators, will be the future home of the New Britain Rock Cats whose lease in New Britain expires in 2015. While the negotiations between Hartford and the ball club have caused a stir, mainly because New Britain feels betrayed because the team did not alert them of the possibility of a move, the big question that comes from this is who does this impact the NHL’s return to Hartford.

Since 1997 the question that has lingered is will the NHL return to Hartford? With this new stadium there are two school of thoughts. Either this new stadium will help push the city to build a new arena, or the new ballpark will prevent the city from exploring a new hockey arena.

Is Hartford making an effort to make itself more attractive for the NHL?

Is Hartford making an effort to make itself more attractive for the NHL?

For some people, they think this ballpark helps the Whalers. If the ballpark helps to revitalize downtown Hartford. If it attracts large crowds and is a financial success, it maybe the spring-board for building a new arena in the Hartford area. On the surface the stadium seems like a good idea, especially for the NHL in the city, but it is a huge mistake.

Who are the New Britain Rock Cats? They are a Double A baseball team. It amazes me that the city of Hartford has made such an effort to acquire a minor league franchise rather than try to lure a professional franchise. Look, I understand that this sounds like a good idea, but it could come back to haunt the city. The Rock Cats currently play 15 minutes aways, was it really worth it the spend 60$ million to move them closer? Instead of building a minor league baseball stadium, especially with baseball’s popularity declining, Hartford should have invested in a new arena. They won’t build a 200$ million dollars arena that could host an NHL franchise, UConn basketball, concerts, and other events ? Let’s face it. UConn basketball is the most popular sports franchise in the state. Why not build an arena for them? This just seems like a short-sighted and almost a conciliation prize type of move by the city. We won’t invest in a new arena but here’s minor league baseball enjoy.

It still is a long road for the NHL to return to Hartford in the future. The hope for Whalers’ fans is that this downtown ballpark will be a step in the right direction. A building block for revitalizing downtown and pushing the city to build a new arena. However, this could be a bad investment that will deter the city from investing in a new arena that an NHL franchise would need. Either way, the city’s decision to build this new ballpark will greatly impact the future of the Whalers in Hartford. Here’s hoping this ballpark will be the first step in bring an NHL franchise back to Connecticut.

Bring back the Brass Bonanza!!!!! How Connecticut can get an NHL team back and why they need to

Hartford has been with hockey since 1997

Hartford has been without hockey since 1997

April 13, 1997 is a date that probably doesn’t mean much to you. Just another day that passed on the calendar without anything significant occurring. However, this was a day that would live in Connecticut infamy. After defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning  by a score of 2-1 the Hartford Whalers where history. These Whalers were just another casualty in a decade filled with more shuffling of NHL franchises then a card game at the casino. Hartford joined the likes of Quebec, Minnesota, and Winnipeg as cities that lost their beloved franchises to other cities. While hockey has returned to Minnesota and most recently Winnipeg, the fans of the Brass Bonanza are still awaiting for the Whalers to come home.

I guess you could say that the Whalers were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Victims of a new owner, who never intended on keeping the franchise in Hartford. A state whose Governor who was trying to lure the New England Patriots from Foxboro down to the insurance capital of America. Governor Rowland felt it was more important to try to lure a different team to the state instead of keeping the one it already had. Long story short, the Whalers were moved to Carolina, while Robert Kraft stabbed the whole state in the back when it was revealed that he just used the relocation to Connecticut as  a ploy in order to gain leverage to build Gillette stadium in Foxboro. Now you know why  Connecticut doesn’t have that many Patriots fans.

With the current state of the NHL with teams like Phoenix, New Jersey, Florida, and Dallas struggling to fill their arenas, the next great migration of teams moving might have just commenced. We may look back and say this movement was started by the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg.  The biggest knock on Connecticut is the lack of an NHL arena. The current arena, the XL center, is old and incredibly outdated. A new downtown arena is essential for not just hockey, but for the well-being of the city. A city that desperately needs to revitalize its downtown community.

It's an uphill battle but with the right course of action hockey could be back

It’s an uphill battle but with the right course of action hockey could be back

The UCONN Huskies are without a doubt the biggest draw in Connecticut.  No surprise there, with multiple National Championships the Huskies are a National power that gives us Nutmegers a sense of pride. With the UCONN hockey team entering the fold in 2014 couple with the declining XL center, it’s not if but when a new arena should be built. The goal of this new arena would not be to just bring in an NHL franchise but rather give UCONN a state of the art arena for years to come. This new arena would  bring in more events such as NCAA regional tournaments while bringing money to a state that is cash strapped. Not to mention it could be a major tool to recruit top talent in order for UCONN to continue their dominance on the hardwood. The success of the MTS Centre in Winnipeg proves the arena wouldn’t have to be a colossal arena. A 15,000 seat arena would be a perfect size for both collegiate and  professional teams to fill the seats.

While there are many other roadblocks preventing the Whalers homecoming, such as current teams affairs and television contracts, step one is to build a new arena. Remember Field of Dreams? If you build it they will come ! Money is a big issue with financing this arena but if the state realizes the benefits of the UCONN Huskies athletic programs it makes sense. Sure the ultimate goal is to bring in an NHL team, but it’s a process. The Whalers had one of the most loyal fan bases and left not because of poor fan attendance but because of a miser owner and a governor who gambled on the NFL and lost. Connecticut needs to improve its sports infrastructure for its college basketball

Whalers fans still miss their beloved team

Whalers fans still miss their beloved team

teams. If they build an arena to help UCONN, then the pipe dream of NHL hockey could become a reality. Hartford was the Green Bay of the NHL in America and represented the unique passion  and love that New Englanders have for the game. The NHL experiment in the Southern U.S. has had mixed to terrible results. Now maybe the best time for Gary Bettman to look north, where hockey belongs. With the success of the Whalers winter festival at Rentschler field over a year ago proved that their still is a strong fan base. While critics argue that minor league attendance has been poor in Hartford minor league hockey to the people of this great state is like beer without alcohol. Once you’ve had the real thing anything less  won’t suffice. When the minor league team changed its named to the CT Whale instead of the Wolf Pack season ticket sales increased by 36%. Coincidence? I think not!!!

The Whalers have such a great history and arguably one of the greatest sports logos in history. What I’m saying is that the city of Hartford has the chance to kill two birds with one stone. Not only improve the playing arena for the UCONN Hockey and basketball teams but at least give the state a chance to get a NHL team back. The road ahead is without question going to be a long and hard one to get the NHL back. But if Hartford takes that first step by investing in UCONN, the state’s best asset who knows? Maybe the sounds of the brass bonanza  will echo through downtown Hartford once again. Please fell free to comment and follow my blog. I would love to hear what suggestions you have for me and what you would like me to write about. You a Whalers fan? Would love to hear from you! Like the Whalers? click these links below Thanks !!

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Move over Boston there’s a new home for college hockey

Quinnipiac is now #2 in the nation

Quinnipiac is now #2 in the nation

Yale is # 8 in the nation

Yale is # 8 in the nation

If Detroit is known as hockey town for the NHL, there is no question that Boston has been known as the college hockey town. Four college teams have dominated the bean pot region and the kings of this hockey kingdom are the Boston College Eagles and the Boston University Terriers. Both programs are perennial contenders with the Eagles winning three of the past five National Championships and the Terriers winning it all in 2009. While these two superpowers of college hockey have dominated for years Boston is also home to the Harvard Crimson and NorthEastern which have also had a major impact on college hockey. But hang on, because the power maybe shifting south and more specifically to Whitney Avenue. Only seven miles apart are two of the hottest teams in college hockey and what is fast becoming one of, if not the biggest rivalry in college hockey. The Yale Bulldogs and Quinnipiac Bobcats have always made noise in the ECAC Division but now they have roared into the national spotlight. In the most recent USCHO national poll both teams have cracked the top 10. While both have been in the top 10 before this is the first time that both schools have been in the top 10 at the same time. Both teams are riding major winning streaks and have been forces in the college hockey landscape. The Yale Bulldogs are currently riding a five game win streak and  defeated both Harvard and Dartmouth this past weekend. The Quinnipiac Bobcats have remained unbeaten in their last sixteen games and have achieved the highest ranking in the University’s history as the second best team in the nation. Both Yale and Quinnipiac have dominated the national field with a combined 13-0-2 record against ranked opponents this season. This will only add fuel to an already heated rivalry as both teams still have to play each other for their annual meetings at both Ingalls Rink, and TD Bank Center. Not only are these two teams pushing Connecticut into the national picture but another college team could soon enter the race. Just by saying Uconn or Connecticut the first thing people think of is basketball. Maybe a few people might think of the Huskies football team but when asked about the hockey program most people say wait, Uconn has a hockey team? Indeed they do and the so called forgotten child in the Uconn athletic department is now making a major splash. This past weekend the Huskies played tough against the Bobcats and lost 2-1 in

Uconn is joining Hockey East in 2014

Uconn is joining Hockey East in 2014

 the inagural meeting between the two. Uconn made  headlines this summer when it was announced that the hockey program would be getting a major overhaul. Not only would the program be joining the prestigious Hockey East conference but it would also be adding 18 scholarships for the program. Another major announcement was that for the Hockey East conference games is that the Huskies would move from the Mark Edwards Freitas Ice Forum to the XL center in Hartford. While the basketball program has the proper facilities the Hockey team doesn’t and is now exploring new options which include building a new ice rink on the Storrs campus. For the short term this is great news for the XL Center whose contract with the Connecticut Whale will expire at the end of the upcoming season and whose future is up in the air. However, the XL Center may not be the the longterm solution for the program because of it’s age and size. Uconn can just look at the blueprint Quinnipiac used for their success. The key cog in building the Quinnipiac machine came with the construction of the TD Bank Center in 2007 for 52 million dollars. The arena has been a major tool in recruitment and one of if not the major reason behind the success of the Bobcats over the past few seasons. While Connecticut has been known for the success of it’s college basketball teams, it is also famously known for losing it’s NHL franchise the Hartford Whalers in 1997, the only professional franchise the state has had. Connecticut hasn’t had the same identity since the Whalers departed for Carolina but now thee college hockey teams could put Connecticut back on the national hockey map. Now if the Huskies continue building in the right direction while Yale and Quinnipiac continue to dominate in the national field Connecticut may soon well dethrone Boston as the mecca for college hockey. Even though these hockey teams have a long way to go before the national tournament the buzz they’ve been creating cannot be ignored. Before we know it Yale or Quinnipiac may not only be in the Frozen Four, but they also may bring back the states first national championship in ice hockey.