COLORADO SPRINGS, CO. – “Three great forces rule the world: stupidity, fear, and greed.”

When Albert Einstein made this observation, he surely didn’t have the NHL in mind. No, the league was still in its relative infancy during Einstein’s life. As a league, however, it certainly has a knack for forgetting the fans are more than potential money donors.

But at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs tonight, it was the fans who paid the real price. It was all in an attempt to enjoy the Stadium Series event featuring the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings.

Fans were looking for a night to remember.

The NHL certainly delivered, but the story of the night became everything but what took place on the ice. Fans wasted little time detailing their frustrations of the evening.

Once they managed to actually leave, that is.

But before we get to the postgame fiasco that has social media referring to what was supposed to be a celebration of outdoor hockey as the “NHL’s Fyre Festival”, let’s back up some.

The issues began long before the first traffic alert went out on Saturday afternoon that I-25 was closing both directions to one lane because of “vehicle damaging potholes” that needed emergency repairs.

It started on January 25th of last year when the league announced the event in the first place. The Air Force Academy was set to host, following the success of the 2018 event that took place at the Naval Academy between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs.

This event came as part of an agreement the NHL has with the United States military to host outdoor games at various service academies around the country.

Naturally, that put the Air Force Academy, and more specifically, Falcon Stadium, on the NHL’s radar. They selected the venue and had to be loving the concept of hosting more than 40,000 paying customers.

After all, the 2018 event hosted just 29,516 fans. The NHL saw its next spectacle as one where they could push this partnership with the military and increase the number of people paying for tickets. The parties ignored AFA’s history of traffic problems in favor of what they viewed as a financial win.

And what a spectacle it ended up being.

Pregame festivities were more sparsely attended than anticipated in muddy parking lots thanks to the traffic issues getting into the stadium, which sits on an active military installation. As part of the security measures for the base, there are only two entrances in and out of the area. With the vast majority of people attending the game coming from Denver, it swamped the North Gate and created huge traffic jams.

People could get to the general vicinity of the stadium but not to the various parking lots surrounding it. Multiple stories of people parking and walking several miles to the stadium emerged. A large number of fans were unable to get into the stadium until well after the game had already begun.

Keep in mind that the actual hockey is almost secondary in these events.

Pregame festivities, including a flyover, are a major part of the attraction. Popular musician (I fear referring to him as a country artist after social media took umbrage with that categorization earlier in the evening) Sam Hunt was scheduled to play a short set during the first intermission.

Many missed both.

In what turned out to be an accidental self-own, the American Forces Network tweeted out video footage from one of the aircraft involved in the flyover from the second intermission. Instead of showcasing the festivities on the ground, it accidentally highlighted the massive traffic issues illuminating the evening sky.

For those who waited out the traffic issues, the problems only continued once inside the stadium.

Concession and bathroom lines were incredibly long, with many waiting between 30 minutes to an hour for either of them. When some got to the front of the concession line, they were informed the stand had sold out of beer, specific food items, or both.

If you can make sense of this mass of people, you’re a sharper eye than me.

Then came sightlines. While I admit the view from the press box was pristine (assuming you didn’t care when a Kings player had the puck because you couldn’t read their jersey numbers), the people who paid top-of-the-line prices to sit close to the action ended up with a little different experience.

From there, the game itself took place. It was a normal outdoor game in that the puck was bouncing around unpredictably and the game came down to who got a bounce here or there and who didn’t but that’s hockey.

The best part of the entire evening was arguably the game itself. All the NHL asked of the Avs and Kings was to show up. Tyler Toffoli certainly did. The rest is up for debate but the two organizations certainly fulfilled their obligations for the evening.

Once that ended, it was time for all those who had poured the effort into getting inside the stadium to take their leave.

And it was, predictably, a gigantic mess.

Stories like these became commonplace:

That last story is particularly interesting (and you have to appreciate the “friends we made along the way” vibe to it). Rideshare services have become an extremely effective way to get in and out of major events such as this. Because the event was being held on an active military installation, rideshare drivers were regularly declining fares because they either couldn’t get onto the base or couldn’t leave once they did get inside.

Couple that with the specific pick-up/drop-off point designated for rideshare services lacking any consistent cell phone service, and you have the perfect storm for stories of folks walking several miles just to leave the base and get rides to where they were going.

Because of the interest in the Stadium Series game, hotels took the luxury of overbooking (a common practice in hospitality) rooms to ensure they sold out with such a large event in town.

What that meant for at least one group of hockey fans, however, was them finding out while they were in hour number three of waiting to leave the stadium parking lot that their reservation had been canceled.

Instead of going back to their hotel and having a drink and trying to laugh it off, they were now faced with trying to trek back to Denver to find different accommodations.

Now, not all of this is the fault of the NHL or the Air Force Academy.

But when parsing blame for this fiasco of an event, that’s absolutely where you begin.

The NHL didn’t care about the logistical hurdles of hosting an event at Falcon Stadium that would bring in numbers it’s clearly not designed to handle (and before you tell me what the capacity of the stadium is, consider how often it actually sells out and the number of non-locals attending this event. Falcons football games are not comparable to tonight’s event).

Air Force, for its part, was in charge of handling the parking lot assignments that caused so many headaches throughout the day. It was also in charge of concessions and staffing inside the venue.  They seemed to be planning for a typical Falcons game of around 30,000 people.

With 44,000-plus on hand, the Air Force’s gross lack of preparation was exposed at every turn. People with tickets in handicap sections couldn’t find ushers to help them find the chairs they needed to sit and enjoy the game.

It was nothing short of gross negligence on the part of everyone involved in the planning process.

And with the game appearing to be a smashing financial success, it’s not hard to imagine the men running the NHL doing synchronized Scrooge McDuck swan dives into their fresh new pile of money.

Instead of a picturesque memory that evokes the nostalgia of a truly epic event, this Stadium Series became a once-in-a-lifetime horror show for far too many fans.

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A.J. Haefele was born in Aurora, Colorado, raised in Katy, Texas and is the Colorado Avalanche beat reporter for DNVR. AJ helped launch the network back in 2015 and has filled roles as a team leader and Editor-In- Chief, along with co-hosting the DNVR draft podcasts along with his other duties. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Avalanche podcast. Follow AJ on Twitter - @AJHaefele

  • Spot on. Due to the drive in, the lines at everything, we decided to leave at the end of the 2nd period and get our child home, best decision of the night. I’ll never go to another outdoor NHL game.

    • More spectacle than experience, glad it wasn’t more horrific than most. Seeing two-thirds of the game is more than many. Glad all are well.

  • Feel terrible for people who are out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for an awful experience or that just bailed because of the headache. FWIW, the game looked great on TV and I love the angles they’re able to show for the outdoor games. Nice change of pace.

  • Very sad and pathetic the people in charge could not anticipate these problems in advance, aren’t they paid to do that. Feel for all the people who went and suffered the experience. The game was a snoozer to listen to on the radio. The Avs need to find consistency or they could be a first round “flame” out. Hope Grub is ok.

    • The parking situation at Falcon Stadium is no surprise – there isnt enough. Bad bad planning on traffic and parking.

  • The worst part of this: none of the parking lights were paved. So you’re telling me, with all we pay in military funding, we can’t pave the parking lots!?

  • Thanks for having our back AJ. Means a lot. It was really bad, and I wondered if the national coverage might not notice because the actual field did look great.

    It did strike me as a typical NHL problem. World-class game, great people and fans, and yet still stumbles back into the small time.

    One-side note: I’m going to stick to hockey arenas from here on out, and sure seems like the Avs players should also, but I still suspect CU could have handled this. Sure, 36 would have be slow, but again, the problem yesterday wasn’t I-25, but the situation at the academy. As we were sitting in our car in the unlit, muddy, basically-attendant-less parking lot for an hour+ after the game, we noted how in Denver or Boulder we would have just walked to a pub for a post game drink. Perhaps CU wasn’t interested, which, OK fine, then skip the whole thing NHL.

  • Do you think the vibe from everybody being upset and frustrated played into how the boys felt tonight? They had better metrics than the Kings but they looked really disjointed and sloppy at times. I cant imagine being on the ice and feeling the tension from the frustration.

  • I feel like a lot of people are being a little over-dramatic over this event. Yes, there was a lot to be frustrated about, but it’s still first-world problems. Anyone that’s been to a football game or graduation ceremony at the Academy knows the traffic can be a mess & others can research those logistics (though this event was still much worse than normal). We had planned ahead & got to the AFA about 1 p.m. when the gates opened & had relatively little issues getting in, although the lot attendants did not seem tho know what they were doing at all. We set up our tailgate party & had a great time with the random people around.

    By the time we wandered over to the fan-fest stuff one thing rapidly became clear: There was a line for EVERYTHING and that was going to be the situation all day, so choose your lines wisely as to what’s important to do. I did’t feel like paying $13 for a Bud Light when I had a 6 pack of good craft beer that I paid $10 for & drank while tailgating, so the booze running out wasn’t an issue for me (still a little silly to run out at an event this big though).

    I think a big issue that has so many people upset is the way the game payed out. Avs offense couldn’t get goals & giving up the GWG with under a minute left just made the mood even worse leading to the nightmare of trying to leave (which, again, was not a secret that it would be a pain in the ass).

    Overall, I still think it was an amazing event & the ceremony of it all was incredible to be at. Despite the frustrations, I’m still glad I went.

    • I agree with what you’ve said about the issues being overblown a bit.
      As an Avs fan local to the AFA, I chose not to go to the game. But the parking/traffic/line issues I knew would happen had nothing to do with that decision at all.

      Even before the tighter security that came about after 9/11, the traffic in and out of big events on the AFA would crawl.
      Hell, I’ve even waited an easy 20-30 minutes to hit I-25 when leaving Pepsi Center after an Avs game or concert…and that’s with I-25 being close and running wide open.

      As for the lines inside the stadium — same thing: it’s always to be expected at Falcon stadium. But, again, there are concession/bathroom line issues @ Pepsi center and other large event places too.

      Look, it sucks that people went away from the game with such a sour taste in their mouths. And I’m sure things could have been better planned and executed.
      But it seems to me that some folks had unrealistic expectations given the setting and scale of this event.

    • Great comment and feedback. Had there been more warning about making this game more of an all-day affair, a lot of fans would have had a better experience. While there are always some traffic issues around the Pepsi Center on game night, it’s a venue capable of accommodating 20,000, all of whom can go any number of directions to exit the premises. In this instance, there were two exits – one was closed for a period of time, too – and twice as many folks at a venue catering to half that.
      Glad to hear you made the best of it.

  • I have attended thousands of sporting events and concerts and this was by far the worst experience I have ever had as a fan. Left from I-25 and Lincoln at 3:30, got to Monument around 4:45 (only slightly longer than usual), but didn’t get parked and into the stadium until after the second period (took three hours to go less than three miles). And I loved how the NHL app sent a notification around 4:30 stating that traffic was “light” and that is was good time to leave. I know multiple people that eventually turned around and went home. Feel a bit betrayed by the NHL, Avs and Air Force Academy for their lack of planning and empathy in this situation. Obviously most of us planned for traffic (why else would we have left 2.5 hours early for what is normally a 45-minute commute), but never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined it would be as bad as it was.

  • I have been shocked at how much of an upgrade is required to make going to Falcon Stadium a first class experience that is worthy of the rich tradition of the AFA. Not surprised what happened last nite. What is surprising is that people are surprised at what happened. Multi million dollar upgrade and change of management are required if you want to be considered a big league- major college operation. Too bad.

    • It does make one consider the light-years of difference 70 miles makes. Denver and Colorado Springs are virtually two different countries.

  • For the several million people who watched the game on tv it was a fun spectacle. If only 43,000 fans are unhappy I doubt the NHL or the Air Force Academy are very upset.

  • Other than the loss we had a really good time. Had intended on leaving at 11:00 but finally got away at 11:20. Navigation said we would get there at 1:30 but as we got south of Denver it said if we took the I25 frontage road for about 10 miles we’d get there 40 minutes earlier. Parked at 12:51. Once we got in all the lines were fine except the Cup line which the person there said would take an hour but seemed quicker, maybe because we were excited to take a picture with it. We were also looking to kill some time. We got in food and beer lines afterwards, about 10 or 15 minutes each. The Fan Shop line was really long by then – probably about an hour. Porta Potty lines were long too but I was just going to wait until I got in the stadium. My wife and one of our kids went to the ones that were out in the parking lot were lines were much shorter.

    Our girls, who both play, played some of the shooting games and at 3:45 we got in the line to enter the game. Once in there the bathrooms were basically empty. Concessions line were short, we went to Chick Fila and beer line. Our friend got more beer later in the game and said it wasn’t bad, we used the bathrooms again after the game and it was 10 minutes or so. Our seats were in the second level, the farthest section to the right (north) when facing the benches. The price was $105, some of the cheapest tickets available during the presale. I didn’t know which end would be attack twice when I picked our seats last September so we got lucky there. I knew I wanted to be fairly high up but not too high. The view was about what I expected for an outdoor game. Not great but watchable.

    Leaving the Academy grounds was slow but not unlike a big football game or concert. It took us an hour and a half between getting in our car and hitting I25. The drive home was easy with light traffic. Got home at midnight. After reading social media this morning I asked everyone how they felt and they all said they had a really good time other than the loss.

    I definitely believe that others had a worse time than us, maybe we were more prepared by having gone to some big FB games at AFA where the crowds were even slightly bigger, especially before they reduced capacity.

    Here’s the part of the article I don’t understand: how is the NHL’s decision to put his thing on at one of the smaller D1 football stadiums in the country along with promoting one of the service academies a sign of their greed? If this was about greed wouldn’t they have done it at Mile High? The logic of that contention really eludes me.

    • I think the greed includes the fact that the Stadium parking can only accommodate 25-30 thousand comfortably- in muddy lots at that- tops- that should have been anticipated.

    • How much money did they get from their deal with the military to specifically hold these events on their academies (instead of, say, a Mile High or a Folsom)? Imagine it was a better financial deal otherwise they wouldn’t have made it. For the NHL, it’s on to the next one. Hopefully they dare learn a lesson from this fiasco and better prepare the next site for a much-improved overall fan experience.

      • What deal with “the military” does the NHL have? Bettman made comments in 2017 about a “unique partnership” to hold some of the games at service academies but there are only three capable of doing so – really only two until West Point renovates their stadium. Saturday’s game was sponsored by Navy Credit Union but they’re independent of the DOD. The game at Navy – Marine Corps Stadium was sponsored by Coors.

  • Had fun watching the game. Though a disappointing outcome. Glad I only had to do the dishes afterward.
    One thing about the TV coverage. When the camera was up close you could tell the teams apart. The long shots looked like twelve players from the same team. They could have made the LA jerseys with white on top, black underneath and there would not have been as much difficulty.

  • I was there early, can confirm sadly everything said is true. I had a bad feeling about traffic so we got there at 1:15 two hours after leaving NW Denver. Merch line – 2+ hours, Food line 45 minutes & out of food, 2 hours to get out of parking lot and I would like to apologize to everyone I cut off exiting but my wife was ready to go. The NHL and the USAFA let the fans down. I guess I am less scarred because my tickets were a Christmas gift & great seats for a football game but not for a hockey (knew this going in) Every time I read something or I hear something new like the no ushers part and I think to myself….yeah, I didn’t see a single one. It sucked, had the boys got the two points…I would have been even. Won’t be going back to another one of those.

  • Have been to a Notre Dame game there twice and I knew what to expect from traffic and parking, we left for the game on the north side of the springs at 2:45 and went through the south gate with no issues, we were parked and out of the truck by 3:10. we had no issues leaving through the south gate either, took us less than an hour to get out. All it took was a little research to make sure both gates were open and running. If you were coming from the north you could have avoided I25 all together and took 85/83 all the way to springs.

    The only issue we really had was with the food vendors and them running out of items. I mean really, Chick Fil A runs out of chicken before the game started…..and I blame that on the vendor them self not the NHL or AFA. I wasn’t going to pay $13 for a beer so that didn’t bother me.

    My family and I had so much fun and enjoyed the experience. But we took the steps to make sure we knew where we were going to get in and out of.

  • CDOT closing lanes at 2pm through the GAP construction zone was a hot mess. That area is always bad even without CDOTs last minute closures. Sure it was for potholes but timing sucked. On a good day with both lanes open if there’s a wreck it’s bad. Getting in and out of the Academy has always been a bad deal. I can’t believe the sports journalist’s didn’t warn more about this…the ones who attend these events here at the Academy. The NHL put this in a 58 year old stadium, on a military academy with two ways in and out. Having said that and since I knew what to expect I still had a blast.

  • As an Air Force veteran and Avs fan to say I was excited about this game is a huge understatement. My wife and I flew in from Arizona spent over a grand when you add up airfare, hotels, tickets, and car rental. Left our hotel in Aurora at 3pm and didn’t get into the stadium until a few minutes left in the second period. After the complete disaster the traffic and parking situation was we then had to walk through mud, ice, and snow to navigate our way to the stadium. There were no ushers inside to help anyone. Once we finally made it to our seats there were people sitting in them that we had to argue with to get them to move. This was by far the worst sporting event I have ever attended. Concessions were horrible. Cold pretzel and warm beer. How do you sell warm beer when the temperature outside is below feezing? (Lol) Anyways, thanks for writing this article A.J. It does make me feel a little better knowing I wasn’t the only person who had a crappy experience.

    • That is truly, awful. Most in attendance at the game were coming from somewhere in Colorado. However, making a small investment in a game like this from out-of-state is really the straw that broke the camel’s back. So sorry to hear this. And thank you for your service.

  • I read the article and listened to the DNVR podcast about the game and I didn’t have any of these problems myself. Maybe I could go to concessions and the bathroom because I was in section U, all the way at the top where there were less people. Maybe I didn’t think traffic was so bad because I got emails others apparently didn’t letting me know about the horrible routes into the AFA and to use the south entrance because it would be much better. I don’t know, but I think there are some things being blown out of proportion (maybe just a little).

    When the game started the majority of the stadium was already filled, not stuck in traffic, but you’d never guess that from what’s being reported (not just here on theDNVR). The podcast says that the majority of the people didn’t have a good time and wouldn’t look back fondly at this event, how do you know that it’s the majority? I don’t think it is. It’s the majority of people on Twitter, that much I could agree with. The traffic was horrible and the lines were horrible, but everyone I interacted with was having/had a great time. I certainly wouldn’t claim to know how the majority felt though.

    • Fair point, Jesse. I think regardless of the whether or not 50.1% had an awful experience, there were lots of issues on game day. Being prepared – as you were – would have definitely helped. Even with ~75% of the stadium filled at puck drop, many folks had such a hassle even getting to their seats and once you factor in the issues with concessions, bathrooms and then the entire ride home (or the 1-2 hours just leaving the venue and still being in ColoSpgs), folks are simply disappointed that most of the modern conveniences of a place like the Pepsi Center were not afforded them at this spectacular event, especially since its 2020 and the NHL had so much time to prepare.
      Regardless, I’m glad things worked out for you and that you can honestly say you had a great time. We would love to hear more of those stories, too. Thank you for sharing.

      • There were many mistakes made by the NHL and AFA that resulted in far too many people not having a good time. You’re right and I agree, it doesn’t matter if it’s the majority or not. I just didn’t think the conjecture that the majority had a horrible time was needed to help illustrate an already bleak picture. I know it’s not important, but for some reason it bugged me the other day and so I made the comment.
        I appreciate the reply, thanks!

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