With the World Junior Championship just days away, the Sabres and Pegula Sports and Entertainment have released additional details on the attractions they’ll be offering to fans outside the 31-games at HarborCenter and KeyBank Center.
Chief among them is the Championship Village which will occupy space in Canalside directly adjacent to HarborCenter. Dotting the cobblestone streets will be a large, enclosed tent sponsored by Labatt Blue, a warming area sponsored by Zippo, food trucks, a sledding hill, frozen jerseys, a hockey skills area and some sort of snowglobe attraction. It’s a nice offering even though it appears a little thin when viewed on the map tweeted by the main PSE account handling the event.
The sledding hill will fill most, if not all of the block bounded by Lloyd, Prime and Hanover Streets, so the final product will be more robust than the graphic may illustrate. Although I’ve been left wondering if there is a missed opportunity to incorporate more of the international flair offered by an event like the WJC.
With teams representing Belarus, the Czech Republic Denmark, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and of course the United States and Canada, there is a diverse offering of culture and entertainment that can be shared and explored through a venue such as the Championship Village. Incorporating some sort of area or attraction for each country would have made the are an extremely robust attraction for the duration of the tournament. While the current iteration will hardly be a pass through, leaving each country out is an unfortunate omission.
It should be noted that Buffalo appears to be the only host city that goes this extra mile when it comes to offering activities outside of the tournament venues. Cursory searches of past and future host cities didn’t offer much in the way of this type of thing. Preliminary reports out of Vancouver, next year’s host, doesn’t indicate anything like the Championship Village on the horizon. Would it have been nice to have the Championship Village include a mini Epcot World showcase where you could grab a beer and a bite native to each participating country? Sure. But the Sabres and Pegula Sports deserve full marks for going above and beyond compared to other host cities in this respect.
Things might pop up here and there as the tournament progresses, but I think there needs to be a better connection to the various teams and fans who will be visiting our city for the next two weeks. We’re still a few days away from the first day of tournament play and I’ve already heard reports of foreign fans taking in the sights of the area. Finding a way to connect with visiting fans and local fans to the countries being represented would have been an excellent addition to the tournament.
One idea I floated after it was announced that Buffalo would be getting the tournament back was to use various bars throughout the city as official gathering places for fans of each respective country. At the time I noted that Riverworks would be a great for USA Hockey’s ground zero, while venues like Pearl Street, 716, Thin Man, Big Ditch and others would be more than adequate for the other countries.
This is an idea that’s stayed with me since partaking in many of the festivities offered at the various country “houses” throughout Vancouver during the 2010 Olympic Games. Country houses are a set of venues set up as a way for the larger participating countries at the Olympics to illustrate their culture and, more importantly, throw big ass parties. It’s a practice that moves from Olympics to Olympics and makes for quite a bit of fun.
The implementation in Vancouver was much bigger than I’d expect to see done here, for obvious reasons. However, the principle would have made for a very intriguing opportunity here. By connecting with certain bars, fans from visiting countries would have a specific spot to meet prior to games and to party after. They would also be perfect places for overflow crowds who don’t have tickets to catch the games.
In a perfect world, you’d create a central point for fans of each respective team to emanate from. For example, if Pearl Street was Canada’s home bar, Canadian fans would know where to go prior to, and after, each game. Fans without tickets could go and watch the game with other like-minded fans and celebrate a win or drown a loss with ticket holders who’d make their way back afterwards.
Obviously, teams like Belarus, Switzerland and Denmark aren’t going to be quite as populous fan bases, so you could likely get double duty out of a venue for those teams.
Given that three pieces of the Championship Village are sponsored, I suspect that PSE wouldn’t be too fond of partnering with various bars not named 716 for obvious brand protection and business-related reasons. Also considering the Labatt tent is set to offer amenities and attractions you wouldn’t typically find at 716, namely live music, it seems logical to conclude that the Sabres and PSE wanted to keep everything under their roof. It’s a smart and understandable choice although a bit disappointing as well.
Visiting fans and media aren’t going to be short on things to do while they’re here. Certainly the News and other intrepid writers will provide comprehensive visitor guides. But while I understand PSE’s desire to protect their product and funnel as many people to their registers as possible, it would’ve been very cool to see them really expand on the One Buffalo mindset and connect with various bars and venues across the city for the World Juniors. It would have made for some electric viewing environments for the tournament’s biggest games.
The Championship Village will probably be a fine addition to the tournament and serve as a terrific way station for fans to visit between games. But I’ll be left wondering what kind of atmosphere we’d see downtown if more bars had been roped into the festivities.