SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

Frozen Four’s big, in Final Four’s shadow

College hockey is a regional game. If the Boston College Eagles didn't realize it before they traveled to Anaheim for the 1999 NCAA Frozen Four, they found out quickly on arrival.

The team took taxis from the airport to its hotel. B.C. associate athletic director Susan Mosher recalls that one cabbie, upon discovering what sport the group played, commented: "I didn't know they played hockey in college."

Compared with the hype of the men's basketball Final Four, the Frozen Four registers barely a blip on the radar screen. The NCAA has some 15 corporate sponsors who get exclusive rights to promotional and signage appearances at all NCAA championship events. Only four of the sponsors — Hershey Foods, Kraft Foods, Pepsi and Phoenix Wealth Management — had a presence this April at the 2001 Frozen Four in Albany, N.Y.

The lack of sponsor presence was partly attributable to the event's timing. The semifinal games were played April 5 — just three days after the Final Four ended, where all 15 sponsors were in full attendance. Those who chose to go to Albany to tap into that rabid Northeast hockey hotbed, spanning from Massachusetts to Minnesota, discovered a Frozen Four fan base and on-site enthusiasm that matches any championship event the NCAA offers.

"It's No. 2 behind men's basketball as far as its revenue generating for the association," said Tom Jacobs, NCAA director of championships. "This event is supported very well. There's a very strong group of core college hockey fans, probably 5,000 or 7,000 strong, that are there every year no matter where it is."

Average attendance for the event over the last five years was 14,723, all sellouts except for 1999. This year's event averaged 13,390. Jacobs said the tournament generates between $500,000 and $1 million profit for the NCAA each year. Estimates are that this year's event, won by Boston College over North Dakota in a 3-2 overtime thriller, will yield $800,000.

The NCAA seems to have decided the best way to market the Frozen Four is to keep it in safe hockey country where sellouts are guaranteed and transportation costs are low. Next year's Frozen Four will be held in St. Paul, Minn.

Because the NCAA holds exclusive sponsor rights, individual schools can't do much to market their own participation. Still, success brings its own rewards. One of Boston College's major sponsors is Coca-Cola Bottling Company of New England. By the time hockey season rolls around next fall, Boston College commemorative Frozen Four championship bottles will have hit the shelves.

Mark Brender is a writer in Ontario.

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