November 3, 2019
There’s been much consternation lately about the starting time for Lehigh Valley Phantoms hockey games at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown. It comes from local fans disturbed by late starts and out-of-town fans wondering about the delay in the local or AHL broadcast. Ultimately, it’s just a few minutes out of your day, and if you understand what’s going on, then it allows you to customize your experience for maximum enjoyment without missing the parts you like the most–hopefully, that’s the hockey part, but to each his own.
So, what’s going on?
Well, at the base of it, there are AHL rules about the time between warm-ups and puck drop for the game. The Phantoms need to comply with those rules, but also have groups and hospitality obligations to meet. For the comfort of all involved, they’ve pushed the hockey part back a bit in order to make sure all the event details have been met and that everyone has time to get to their seat. For me, I think it works quite well.
One of the other problems has been communication. The “Game Time” listed with AHL and widely published, is 7:05PM for evening games. That’s what is printed on our tickets. Recently, the team and the area started describing 7:05PM as the “Event Time” NOT “Puck Drop,” blurring the line, somewhat.
But, once you get the schedule down, you can customize the experience for yourself. Do you want to get in early and maximize your game-day arena experience? Do you have friends to meet or group activities? Are you part of a hospitality area or suite where food and drinks are included, so you want as much of that as you can? Do you want to get to your seat exactly when the hockey starts? Use the rough schedule below to customize your own evening. And, if you’re watching at home, you’ve got a few extra minutes to get a beverage and relax, or, you can flip to another game and watch some early hockey before our game starts.
What follows is indeed a rough schedule which may change slightly based on the particular night, but I’ve averaged a bunch of the games here in the early part of the 2019 hockey season to come up with these times. I’ll editorialize, in case you want to know what I’m talking about. All based on “7:05 Event Time” games. Earlier start times just adjust accordingly.
6:00PM – Doors and Gates Open
It’s always the hour before, now. In the early days, we had 5:30PM gates on Saturdays, when the arena was new and we wanted more time to explore and relax in the new facility. It was also the salad days for Chickie’s and Pete’s and (at the time) Crust, and allowed them to clear the restaurant a bit for the next seating. Now, with the slightly later puck drop, it’s not necessary.
There are four main entrance points, and several more minor ones. The longest lines are usually at the main entrance at 7th/Hamilton and at the Air Products gate at 7th and Linden. The shortest lines are at the LVHN entrance along Hamilton, next to 99 Bottles. You can also enter via Chickie’s and Pete’s, with security outside the restaurant these days. There are two entrances via the Renaissance Hotel–one in the lobby, and one on the third floor around the corner from the elevators, access to the Miller Lite Loft. If there’s a giveaway promotion, I would advise the main entrances to assure best chance at the promotion.
6:34PM (20:00 on countdown clock on scoreboard)
Fans to the bench. Groups, VIPs or STH: Fans in ill-fitting helmets make their way to the home bench to watch warm-ups. The clock time and the countdown clock won’t always match here, but gives you two ways to know where we are in the pre-game.
6:39PM (16:25) Warm-Ups
Players enter from East tunnel for warm-ups. House lights are up and warm-up playlist (curated by the Hamilton Howitzer, Greg Carey) begins. Starting goalie leads the team on the ice.
Final song of the playlist right now is Just Got Paid – Sigala (w/ Elle Fyre, Meghan Trainor and French Montana) in case you want to know when warm-ups are almost over so that you can get to the rest rooms or the beer stand again before event time and lights-out.
6:55PM (0:00) Pre-Game Routine
Players have exited the ice, and the music stops. Lights are dimmed and the arena begins to fill with fog. The concourse curtains are closed. You can still pass freely, I think they just want to keep the fog off the concourse.
7:01PM TJ Brennan
Poorly-illustrated TJ Brennan comes on the big board to tell you how to be a better fan. Fans that need to know this are likely not paying attention, but I’m glad it’s closer to game-time now compared with previous.
7:05PM Lights Out!
Lights out. It’s good to get to your seat before, or after, this because the dark plus the fog makes it difficult to navigate the steps and find your row and the ushers are…well, you know. I’m old, but it’s not just me. As a guy who used to sit on the aisle in row 20, I can tell you the number of people who trip and fall on those steps–young and old–increases exponentially once the lights are down.
Bow-Tie Ben makes his entrance and gets the fans hyped up. I love Ben and think he does a great job. Personally, I could do without this part, but I know the team ownership and management want an activated crowd, not one sitting on hands. (Hello, professional fan with T-Shirts) I preferred the meLVin entrance of yore, but that got cut for time, it seems.
7:08PM Hype Video and Light Show
This, I like. The ops department puts these together–usually three or four per year. I generally love them, but prefer the loud music plus hockey and not the graphics or the fans. No matter, I give the current version, Bigger, Stronger, Faster – Eric Lives Here (“No Pain No Gain Rise Up and Break the Chain”) 3 1/2 stars out of 5.
7:11PM Team Intro
The PA, Joe, gets us on our feet for the team intros. Mites might be on the ice with them, and the fire/smoke is moved into place surrounding the East tunnel entrance. The officials are on the ice.
7:12-7:13PM National Anthem
Lights come up to dim-level. There might be a big flag, or colors presentation. There might be God Bless America. There might be O Canada.
7:15PM Ceremonial First Puck
Perhaps not every game, but if there’s a ceremonial puck drop, it happens here.
We made it!
So there it is. Remember, times are approximate. They move pretty snappily from one thing to another. It’s not boring if you’re sitting there the whole time–and you can spend the time on the concourse or upstairs in the Loft or in line for the restrooms and beer as you need.
I like it, but you know me, I’m always trying to make things better. If I were in control, I think I keep the schedule basically the same. I’d try to add some kind of pre-game meLVin skit or entrance, whether live or on the video board. While the logo projectors and spot-light show through the fog are cool and probably much more than other AHL teams do, I’d try to afford one of those ice-video projection systems so that some of the pre-game could be projected onto the ice like the NHL teams have. That would be a must-see before each game.
I know they want everyone in their seats, if possible, before the lights go down at 7:01, but I think I’d still try to get my message more consistent by maybe filing the game time as 7:15PM. It’s 2019 and it’s not only about the fans in the seats, as folks are watching and paying attention to these games from all over the world.
OK, let’s do that hockey,
See you at the arena,