The AHL’s Charlotte Checkers sold more than 7,000 hot dogs last night during their 3-0 win over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. At today’s home game, they’ll sell zero.
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Due to plunging temperatures and a forecasted 2-4 inches of snow in the Charlotte area, the Checkers, a Hurricanes affiliate, have decided to close the arena for today’s game against the Sound Tigers. The 7 p.m. start has been moved up to 5 p.m. No fans will be allowed inside. The paid attendance will be 0.
“So first of all, we’re in the South,” Checkers COO Tera Black told me. “The snow events are infrequent and sort of sporadic and and very very unpredictable.”
As the forecast for the storm got worse, Charlotte schools and city government offices closed. It would be complicated and expensive to get the Sound Tigers back to Charlotte for a single game if this one were canceled, Black said, so the decision was made around 8 a.m. to play the game in an empty arena. The Checkers average more than 6,000 fans a game.
It’s actually the second time in recent years the Checkers will be playing a home game before no fans. On Jan. 22, 2016, the Checkers played the Chicago Wolves in an empty arena due to icy weather. “It would’ve been an ice luge trying to park,” Black says. That time the teams were already at the arena, so they just went ahead with the game even though no fans were allowed in.
That game, Black says, was one of the most memorable in her 22 seasons in hockey. “We sent everybody home,” she says. “So our immediate staff—all of our executives—ran the game. We had the game officials, because they were in town. We had a few special off-ice officials. We had everybody we needed to run a game and nobody we didn’t. I ran the penalty box.”
Black says tonight’s game will be more of the same: A spartan crew of team executives, about a dozen people, will run the game as if there are actually fans in attendance. “It’s really bizarre because you’re doing the whole show but with literally no people,” Black says.
She shared a tale from the last empty arena game, with the team’s director of creative services on the public address system. “Obviously our front office knows the players on our team but we don’t know the visiting teams,” she says. “So there is a change of goalie… And he said, ‘Now in goal … number 35.’ That was it. No name.”
The Checkers hope tonight’s empty arena game goes better than the last one, where they gave up four third-period goals and lost, 4-3.