Back in the day, New York sports fans could get to the city's legendary stadiums by subway or bus. Transit put the fans in the stands to watch The Babe, The Mick, Willie and the Duke of Flatbush.
Although many of the new professional sports arenas have moved to suburban New Jersey, they are still connected by rail - an idea that Connecticut could use to develop the base for a professional sports franchise.
The linking of sports arenas by rail in New York and New Jersey works two ways. Some systems transport fans deep into New York City to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, and, when it is built, to Brooklyn's Barclay Center. Others move fans to arenas in New Jersey.
A series of major arenas have been built alongside new and existing train stations across New Jersey's network of small cities. The station at the new Meadowlands National Football League stadium welcomes Giants and Jets fans arriving by train. In addition, the new 25,000-seat Red Bulls soccer arena in the industrial city of Harrison next to Newark has become the hub of professional soccer alongside the state's PATH rail system. Finally, Newark's Prudential Center arena has become the new home of the NHL's New Jersey Devils at the western end of the PATH system and the eastern end of NJ Transit's network.
In the last year, Connecticut has seen the direct effect of linking the nearby Bronx Bombers with the state via Metro North. Throngs of Yankee fans can relax and enjoy a beer and/or read the paper instead of battling I-95 traffic. Plus, the $1 child fare on the train is more family-friendly than dropping $40 or more on gas and as much again on parking. Also, the train leaves at the stadium's doorstep, better than hiking to a distant, overpriced distant parking lot that requires you to leave two hours after the end of the game.
The trend has continued with Giants and Jets fans taking special Metro-North service to the Meadowlands and additional spectators using the same lines to get to the U.S. Open and Citi Field from Grand Central Station via direct subway service. The popularity of the train speaks to the potential of sports by rail in Connecticut, a concept the state should embrace.
Connecticut could use sports-by-rail to its advantage as both an in-state system that ties together Connecticut's collection of small cities and as a spur from New York City for special sporting events. The already dominant Yankees rail culture across Connecticut's Metro-North system can be reversed northbound to an in-state sports hub in Hartford, which already has a phenomenal train station location adjacent to the city's popular bars and two blocks from its downtown arena, the XL Center.
The state is soon to get a commuter rail upgrade of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line. Using University of Connecticut basketball games in Hartford as an impetus for in-state sports train service between Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford, the state will create a strong Connecticut sports market corridor of 2.8 million people, more than twice the 1.2 million in the Hartford region.
A unified sports base of 2.8 million should have enough pull to land a professional team in Hartford. With the rail connections, the city is far enough away from New York's sports franchises but linked with the rest of the state's urban centers and New York itself. Plus, the rail corridor opens the door open to use New Haven's venerable Yale Bowl near the rail line for special professional sports events, such as a single Giants and Jets game.
If marketed properly, the train will greatly improve Connecticut's chances of becoming a professional sports market again - and make the place a little more fun.
Nicholas Caruso, a Connecticut native, is an urban planner and designer in Somerville, Mass.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at