To talk about Madison Square Garden (MSG) is to talk about sporting history. The history of sport, music and even politics. Located in the heart of Manhattan, this venue with a capacity for almost 20,000 people is the world reference for the celebration of events.
The current complex, which rises above the centrally located Pennsylvania Station, is the fourth MSG in history. The first two, built in 1879 and 1890, were located in Madison Square (hence the name), while the third, built in 1925, was located at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and 50th Street, not far from the present one.
From ice hockey to basketball to the UFC
During the days we spent in New York for this report, we were able to experience first-hand the enormous capacity of the venue to transform itself in a matter of hours. Just one example will give you a better understanding. On Thursday it was the turn of ice hockey and the New York Rangers beat the Minnesota Wild on an icy surface that less than 20 hours later had been transformed into a stage where a famous New York comedian performed. It seemed like a different place, but it wasn’t. And that’s how we woke up on Saturday, with venue staff working around the clock to make way for the comedian’s stage to make way for a spectacular octagon where UFC 295 was to be held. With more capacity, more chairs and more lights than before. In short, more spectacle.
But the most surprising thing happened in the 24 hours immediately following the end of UFC 295. It was almost 02:00 when the last of the fans who had attended the evening left Madison Square Garden. However, it was 10:00 (only 8 hours later) when the spectators for the NBA game between the Knicks and the Hornets began to take their seats.
If you have not yet been surprised, I must explain that on the same Sunday afternoon a new NHL game was being played at Madison Square Garden. Basketball at noon and ice hockey at 20:00. With all that this entailed in terms of changes of surface, accommodation and vacating of capacity and closing and opening of shops corresponding to the different clubs that use MSG for their home games.
Ice never melts
Ice is always there. That’s the first thing you need to know. There are huge cooling machines that maintain the temperature so that it doesn’t melt. When MSG hosts an event away from the NHL, the surface is manually covered with a false floor that allows the basketball court to be installed on top of it, or the surface on which to erect a stage for a big concert or a ring for a boxing match, for example.
First class VIP area
Visiting The Garden is not cheap. While there are affordable options, you have to be prepared to fork out the big bucks for whatever event you’re going to see. However, if you have the budget, you can still enjoy a great experience in the VIP area. When you walk through its corridors, it feels like you are leaving a pavilion behind and entering the corridors of a five-star hotel.
With private boxes for public figures and all kinds of comforts inside (kitchen, sofas, refreshments…), the view from the ring of boxes will give you the best perspective of the venue.
A dressing room for every venue
As you may have guessed, Madison Square Garden is the home of the New York Rangers ice hockey team and the New York Knicks basketball team. And like any good home, each has its own space. In fact, one of the most curious points is the “crossroads” at the end of the locker room tunnel that leads to the court. On one side, the Rangers’ locker room; on the other, the Knicks’.
Don’t imagine something spacious and luxurious like the changing rooms of the big European football stadiums. The changing rooms at MSG contrast with the elegance of the rest of the stadium. They are rather small and unassuming. In fact, the place for storing the sticks is in the corridor outside the Rangers dressing room.
Home of historic moments
Remember the fight of the century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and the happy birthday Marilyn Monroe sang to John F. Kennedy? It all happened at MSG and it’s all captured inside. An enviable photographic exhibition captures every moment that MSG has witnessed along the circular ring that surrounds the centre and through which visitors stroll past shops and fast food stalls on their way to their seats.
“Welcome to the most famous pavilion in the world,” says The Garden on its walls. And it probably is. Any one of us can put it on the map and it has also served as inspiration for other great venues around the world, including the Santiago Bernabeu.
Although Real Madrid has the Wizink Center nearby (it hosted almost 200 events last year), MSG is the global reference in this aspect and reaches the top one in terms of days of occupation per year with around 300. In the case of the Madrid stadium, its objectives are close to those achieved year after year by The Garden and the functionality would be similar, as they seek to host football, basketball, tennis or NFL matches, as well as concerts, conferences or exhibitions.