Flyers Had Eyes For Citizens Bank Park All Along

29 Dec

CITIZENS BANK PARK — Dec. 19 was the official move-in day for the NHL, but Phillies President David Montgomery didn’t recognize his own building, Citizens Bank Park, even before then. He won’t for a while. It’s not just the Winter Classic; it’s not just an alumni game. There is a whole week’s worth of events on ice at Citizens Bank Park, the only place this outdoor series was ever going to be in Philadelphia.

“I knew that the toughest message was going to be telling [head groundskeeper] Mike Boekholder that we were gonna have ice,” Montgomery recalled. “The reality is that we knew that we were gonna sacrifice the field, but that’s a price we will pay.”

Don’t worry; it won’t be too tough for the Phillies to make up the cost. According to a report from the Daily News, the daily cost of having the rink up is somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000.

It was nearly a year ago, the Phillies became aware of the potential of not only the income, but also the opportunity to have a whole outdoor series on their premises.

“It was probably 11 months ago that I heard from Peter Luukko about the possibility of this event taking place here,” said Montgomery. “We got into what I would call more serious discussions late spring, early summer as far as what a host of the Winter Classic — what the undertaking really meant.”

The call to the Phillies makes sense. The Flyers, who are owned by Comcast-Spectacor, had a vested interest in the Phillies’ home, which is also partially operated by Comcast-Spectacor Global Spectrum Division.

A source indicated to Philly Sports Daily that the Eagles reached out to the Flyers with interest in hosting the events at Lincoln Financial Field last winter. The Flyers apparently reciprocated the interest, but then trailed off. The Eagles operate Lincoln Financial Field, so the Flyers, or rather Comcast-Spectacor, wouldn’t see as much income as a result.

“I couldn’t say that we were terribly aggressive,” said Montgomery. “I think the aggressive party was the Flyers. Peter [Luukko] and Ed [Snider] made a real conscious effort to see if it couldn’t be done here in Philadelphia. Obviously we hope that the weather cooperates because that’s clearly a factor in the NHL’s selection to play outdoors.

“The fact is that they were the party and when they saw this opportunity here, circumstances dictated the opportunity as much as anything else. Like I said, I think it’s very beneficial that you can have a series of events in a baseball facility and you can take the time to do it right as far as bringing the elements of the Classic to fruition to the degree you want. We’re pleased that through Jan. 8 we’ll still have events here.”

If the events were to be held at the Linc, there wouldn’t have been as much time for setup or the events after the Winter Classic, although that wasn’t known at the time the Eagles showed interest during the lockout.

Even with the Phillies on board nearly a year ago, the formal announcement went less than smoothly.

“I think it got announced before the parties had even gotten together,” said Montgomery. “Somehow I guess the word leaked that Philadelphia was a potential site and then, appropriately so, I think the parties decided ‘Maybe before we do an official announcement we maybe want to talk about what the arrangement’s gonna be.’

“Because it was already out there, I don’t think the league — they should probably speak to this — I don’t think they felt the pressure that it was kind of the worst-kept secret that it was coming to Philadelphia. I think it was on the Flyers’ schedule that we were playing the Rangers on Jan. 2 and they were still hosting Disney on Ice at that point.”

The NHL schedule wasn’t announced until June 23, but the hosting of Disney on Ice is a holiday tradition that goes back to when the arena was called the CoreStates Center, three names ago. Clearly the game wasn’t going to be held at Wells Fargo Center. Just as clearly, the complexity of the entire outdoor series couldn’t have been done at Lincoln Financial Field if there was even a possibility of Eagles home games in the regular season or, dare we say, the playoffs.

“This is very complex in the sense that the game is the NHL’s,” said Montgomery. “The ability to do ancillary things became more local opportunities and the NHL is involved in the alumni game so you almost have three different structures as far as the events are concerned.”

Even though it was basically a foregone conclusion that the series would be held at Citizens bank Park, Montgomery feels lucky to play host.

“If the South Philadelphia sports complex has a bucket list of events they’d like to have, this is gonna be pretty special to be checked off,” said Montgomery.

“The fans are so wonderful in this city in all aspects. To think that we’re not only, as expected, going to sell out a Winter Classic, but we’re gonna have 43,000 people for the alumni game and 43,000 people to sample outdoor hockey for a Phantoms game. Again, we the Phillies have been such a beneficiary of the solid fan support that this community provides and I think it extends to so many sports. It showcases our city. I was born here in Philadelphia and I’ve been here my entire life. I’m very proud of this city in so many ways.”

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