Those who turn a telescope on the NHL all-star game in order to show it’s irrelevant to the players and a bore for the fans are looking through the wrong end, according to those involved in playing host to the game or participating in it.
The game, which goes Sunday at Scotiabank Place, still means a great deal to the league, host team and city, fans and even the players from economic, marketing and entertainment standpoints. If you take a long-distance view and not worry so much about the faults of the game itself, according to San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, who is one of the assistant coaches at the game, then it makes more sense.
“We have to think backward,” McLellan said Friday. “We always start with the players and coaches and go from there. But we should start backward and think about the fans and what they want and what they need.”
For the most part, McLellan believes, the NHL is succeeding. He said the fans love the pregame draft in which the team captains pick their squads from the all-star pool of players and the skills competition, which is held the night before the game.
Ticket sales to this week’s events backup McLellan’s assessment. There was a large, enthusiastic crowd for last Thursday’s player draft and both the skills competition and the all-star game have long been sold out.
“I think [the fans]are really excited about the draft part of it,” McLellan said. “I think they sit at home, watch and debate about the picks.”
TSN announced Friday its live broadcast of the all-star draft produced an average audience of 1.6 million viewers over the 90-minute show, and a total of 3.7 million people tuned in at some point on TSN and French-language RDS. That made the draft the second-ranked show on Canadian television last Thursday night among adults ages 18 to 54.
Over the last two days, traffic on the streets leading into downtown Ottawa was bumper-to-bumper as people flocked to events like the Fan Fair, which runs through Sunday at the Convention Centre.
City officials estimate the all-star game and its affiliated activities will bring an economic benefit of about $30-million. Last year’s events in Raleigh brought about $20-million (U.S.) into the local economy.
Both Carolina Hurricanes president and general manager Jim Rutherford and Ottawa Senators president Cyril Leeder say the game is a big payoff for their teams. Neither would say how much, but both said the teams will make some money from the game. (The league gets most of the revenue through ticket sales and sponsorships.)
However, both Leeder and Rutherford said the game is operated on a break-even basis. For almost every dollar that comes in, money is spent on entertainment or celebration events.
Economically, teams will make money through increased season-ticket sales as all subscribers are guaranteed tickets to the all-star game. But the real benefit is the good will generated with existing and new fans.
“It’s a great reward for the loyalty of season-ticket holders and other fans because they get a special event,” Rutherford said. “They get very excited about that and appreciate the team and the league for getting all the top players to their city.”
The host city also gains benefits aside from the crowds of people who spend money on hotel rooms and in local restaurants.
“The game itself gets looked at from different angles,” Leeder said, acknowledging the complaints that it lacks the intensity of a regular-season game and that too many players skip it. “But from an economic perspective, it’s great for your city.
“It is a chance for Ottawa to show the league and the world what we can do. The game draws a lot of media. Also, we’re still a relatively young team. We’re only 20 years old so any time we can do something special for our fans it’s important.”
But about that game where there’s no hitting?
“Fans want to see goals and they want to see offence, so they usually get that,” McLellan said. “A lot of the fans appreciate the physical part of the game, the ruggedness, the finishing checks and that’s what we’re missing a little here.
“But in reality, it will be hard to draw that out of the players because of the risk of injury.”