The Metropolitan Riveters will play their home games at the American Dream mall for the next three years, the PHF team announced Wednesday.
The retail complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, features a regulation-size ice rink that will serve as the Riveters’ home ice for all practices and games for the next three seasons. It’s located near an indoor water park, a Ferris wheel and a number of retail stores.
The team practiced at the rink last season but played its games at the New Jersey Devils’ practice facility.
“After practicing at American Dream, it felt like the perfect time to take that partnership to the next level,” Riveters captain Madison Packer said in a news release. “American Dream is committed to growing the game and supporting female athletes, and I am beyond excited to call the complex home for many years to come.”
Undoubtedly, more eyes are always a plus when it comes to growing the women’s game. Holding games in a mall, where those eyes are almost guaranteed, is certainly one way to achieve that goal.
The rink has the capacity for as many as 2,000 fans, which represents an increase from the maximum capacity of 1,000 at the Barnabas Health Hockey House, the team’s previous home. The Riveters plan to start with 1,000 seats for each game near the rink on the first floor, Sportico reported, but they’ll have room to grow.
Premium seating is also expected to be available on the second floor of the mall, with tickets that would include food, merchandise and meet-and-greets, per ESPN.
The third floor will be open to pedestrians and onlookers, who won’t buy tickets but will be able to sample the game.
“There’s the opportunity to spread excitement among people who didn’t know they were going to have a hockey experience when they woke up that morning,” Frank Supovitz, a fan experience consultant for the Riveters, told ESPN.
“We’re not going to be kicking people out for watching the game, especially because our No. 1 priority is to expose the game [to new fans],” team president Digit Murphy said.
Opting to allow people to watch games without paying is certainly a choice – and the economics of that decision will play out over the course of the next season.
Also, the rink currently does not feature any seats. The Riveters will set up 1,000 for each game, Sportico reported, but exactly what that will look like remains to be seen.
Players could promote shops inside the mall or participate in on-ice fashion shows, Murphy suggested to ESPN.
Many PHF players have to take on other jobs in order to play the game they love, so sponsorships could help them – but the idea and the optics seems to run at odds with a league aiming to put itself in line with other professional leagues across sports.
What’s more: The mall has been missing debt payments since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Twice, operations group Triple Five Group has failed to make its quarterly $125,000 payment. A recent Wall Street Journal article floated the idea that the mall has struggled to become financially viable. The town of East Rutherford has even retained legal counsel to consider its options over the unpaid $5.4 million in sewer fees and missed payments.
“I hate to see the project go under or go bankrupt, it does employ a lot of people down there,” East Rutherford Mayor Jeffrey Lahullier said.