The Rams and Patriots will face off in the Super Bowl and many will make the connection between their first Super Bowl meeting in 2002. However, both franchises are connected in another way. At one time both strongly considered moving to Hartford, Connecticut. The Patriots did agree to move which we covered on another podcast which is below and you will want to check it out. On this episode we highlight the Rams considering to move to Connecticut in 1994 and could you imagine this Super Bowl being the Hartford Rams vs. the New England Patriots? I talk about the relocation plans and which Connecticut actor was the head of a group that wanted the NFL in his home state.
Twenty years ago on November 18, 1998 the Robert Kraft announced that the New England Patriots would be moving to Hartford Connecticut for the 2001 season. The Project based in downtown Hartford would be over a billion dollars with the centerpiece being a new state-of-the-art 61,000 seat stadium. Despite the generous offer, the Patriots would ultimately stat in Foxborough and the rest is history.
What happened? On this episode I am creating a new segment where I look at team’s moving and why it happened. In this case there were multiple reasons why it didn’t happen because of both Connecticut and the Robert Kraft. However, there’s a third party that never gets mentioned which I’ll reveal and exclusive audio from Robert Kraft on why the Patriots didn’t move to Connecticut’s Capital.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Is their hope for the NHL in Hartford on the horizon? One of the biggest obstacles preventing a team playing in Connecticut’s capital is the lack of a state of the art arena, however that soon may no longer be a problem.
The Hartford Courant has reported that Oak Street Real Estate Capital, a Chicago firm, will submit a proposal to purchase and renovate the city’s arena later this month. The XL Center, formerly the Hartford Civic Center, is one of the oldest facilities in the country and needs a major overhaul. Currently, the arena hosts concerts is home to UConn Basketball, UConn Ice Hockey, and the AHL’s Hartford WolfPack.
The offer to the city of Hartford did outline the plan to renovate the building and planned to put in over $250 Million with the intention of making it a state of the art facility. The state has proposed two options in recent years, one of which was a $250 Million dollar proposal to bring the current property up to a state of the art facility through renovation.The other, and more expensive option, was to completely tear down the existing structure and build a new arena which would have cost $500 Million.
The outline of the deal would be $50 Million upfront from the group to the state, but the state would pay 7.5% of the renovation costs and would be subject to annual increases of two percent. This would mean at the minimum the state would invest roughly $19 Million for the reconstruction. Just to tear down the existing structure would cost $40 Million
The following is a statement from the Oak Street Group on their interest in acquiring the XL Center.
“Our interest in the XL Center stems from our larger goal of revitalizing the Hartford area. We believe that the transformation of the aging arena into a state-of-the art sports and entertainment venue can be the focal point of the city’s redevelopment and spur economic growth.”
Included in this statement, Oak Street it is ready to close on the acquisition of the building in the coming month and would send its proposal to the state for the upcoming request for proposals.
If the XL Center is upgraded to a state of the art facility it could put the city of Hartford in the discussion for a potential NHL team. The good news for hockey fans in Hartford is there are two encouraging trends in the National Hockey League that could eventually help the city land a franchise.
The first is the league’s expansion plan. The league is already looking to add a 32nd franchise in Seattle and after a successful ticket drive, Seattle is inching closer to professional hockey. After the success of hockey in Las Vegas due to a new expansion draft that has given the Golden Knights the quality talent to earn a sweep in the first round the NHL playoffs. With the new expansion plan working it is possible that Hartford could land an expansion franchise rather than relocating an existing team.
The second factor is that Seattle is setting a new arena precedent for attracting an NHL franchise. It was believed that the only way to attract an NHL franchise with a brand new arena. However, if Seattle is awarded an official franchise, it proves that a city can update a pre-existing arena to a modern standard rather than building a new arena. In Seattle, the plan is to extensively remodel Key Arena into a state of the art facility. If the NHL does put a team in Seattle for the 2020 season, it shows that they are willing to put a team in a state of the art facility even if it is not a brand new facility.
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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
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.
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
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.
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.