The Syracuse Crunch will kick off their 28th season this month – and, for the first time since March of 2020, fans will fill the stands of Upstate Medical University Arena.
Family Times recently talked to Jim Sarosy, the team’s chief operating officer, about what you can expect when attending a game this season.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
1. During the 2020/21 season, the Syracuse Crunch played 16 home games without fans. How does it feel to have fans back in the arena this year – and to be playing a full schedule?
It’s exhilarating, it really is. What we had to go through last year really just makes it that much more special. I’ll never forget the first game in the empty building last year. We did 32 games, 16 at home with no fans. It was a very emotional moment right when the first puck dropped in that empty building. My thoughts went to all the folks who wanted to be here but couldn’t, whether it was someone who’s been a season ticket holder for 25 plus years and had never missed a game up until that point or some of our newer young fans, and what was being taken away from them – the ability to come see live sports. It was very emotional in that regard. And then, on the flip side, due to our fortunate TV partner at CNY Central, and the fact that we were able to broadcast 14 of the 16 games, it made the organization feel like we were trying to provide an escape for people for the three hours that the games were taking part. So, there was still a way for people to participate, not in the way we wanted, but at least the hope there was to take their mind off the craziness for a little bit and watch some Crunch hockey.
What has the reaction been from the fans?
It has been overwhelmingly positive…The outpouring of support from the Central New York community has been really second to none when I compare it other franchises in our league. It’s very rewarding and it just reinforces what we’re trying to do here.
“The outpouring of support from the Central New York community has been really second to none when I compare it other franchises in our league. It’s very rewarding and it just reinforces what we’re trying to do here.” – Jim Sarosy, chief operating officer of the Syracuse Crunch
2. What can families expect if they come to a game? All fans must be fully vaccinated?
After speaking with all the parties – our local medical partners with Upstate University Hospital and Dr. Robert Corona specifically, the Tampa Bay doctors that we’re affiliated with, the county – we think the best way for us to reach our goal of playing these games in the safest possible environment was to require vaccination for fans. As a staff, we are 100% vaccinated, and again, that was what we think is the safest way to do it right now. We’re following any trend and what these other teams are doing. I know there are some teams in our league that are only doing vaccinations, some are allowing negative tests, and some aren’t doing anything. But we want to get through this season in the safest possible way, not only for our athletes, but for our fans. That’s how we’re going to open the season and then we’ll just continue to monitor it as things move along and the calendars continue to change months.
3. Have there been any other changes?
Physically, no. We did a big renovation right before the 2019/20 season, so we’re still learning all the wonderful things that our new stadium scoreboard and everything can do. A lot of our focus last year was really on the cleaning and safety measures and all of those protocols. Fans will notice little things. We’re not going to have some of the programs they’re accustomed to in terms of Bench Buddies or having folks escort the athletes out on the ice. That kind of stuff has to go away for a little bit. But we’ll be creative. National Anthems will have to be sung from a different location. Again, safety is the riding factor. I know it might sound a little cliché, but that’s what we’re up against right now is how do we put a lot of people in a small building and make sure that everyone is confident and comfortable. That’s what we’re working towards.
4. What will you offer for families this season?
A lot of giveaways. The goal will never change; it’s to provide an affordable, fun, family atmosphere. And that takes part in a number of different ways. And I’m not just talking about the show that we put on with the music and such but is there something for that four-year-old, that eight-year-old, and that 16-year-old. We all know that they’re into different things at different times. So, our goal is to try to give each age group something to look forward to. Is it a new sign-making station with the mascot? Is it something more hockey-centric for the older crowd? Is it some special Instagram filters that we’re coming up with and some fun in-arena activations utilizing our scoreboard so we can get more engagement from all the different demographics that are in our building. We’re so blessed that we are a family-first organization. You can see that by looking around our crowd. But we know not everything is for everyone. It’s always reinvesting in what we do. You’ll see that through the appearances that we bring in. We’ll bring in a Ric Flair for that wrestling demographic or a Kendall Coyne for that female youth hockey player. We always try to think of something that will reach out to each of those people.
For more information about the team, including upcoming promotions, visit syracusecrunch.com.