If the NHL wants to truly cash in on a massive opportunity to market itself, and grow the game, then they cannot afford to misfire at this year’s All Star Weekend.
It became evidently apparent how much of an opportunity this year’s festivities could be after reading about it in Elliotte Friedman’s 32 Thoughts column…
“The NHL announced this week two skills competitions outside of T-Mobile Arena, one in the Bellagio fountain, the other on the strip itself….It’s important, as Mayer [the interviewee] says, that when you’re in Vegas, you have to do things that are unique to Vegas.”
“One other initiative from All-Star I wanted to mention: the league is doing a “soft-launch” for a ball-hockey program led by Andrew Ference, the NHL’s director of Social Impact, Growth and Legislative Affairs. Get people to play hockey even if not on ice.”
That one line, that when in Vegas, you do things unique to Vegas, shapes the potential for a memorable and unique All Star Weekend that takes advantage of the host city (obviously). All too recently, the All Star Weekend has felt incredibly generic, as if the NHL were simply putting it on because they had to. Barring specific events such as 2019’s “The San Jose Sharks and the History of Hockey in Northern California”, as the event was in San Jose, there has been a lack of originality for both the fans and players.
However, that could very well change drastically in 2022. Hosting an event in the Bellagio fountain, one of Las Vegas’ most iconic landmarks, as well as shutting down the Las Vegas strip for what seems like an insanely unique and viral-worthy event, are more along the lines of what the NHL should be putting on at the All Star Weekend.
On the podcast variant of 32 Thoughts, it was even noted that players and/or teams were upset that they weren’t picked to be a part of the fountain event. So, it’s clear that these type of unique events are fun for the players, and therefore, they’ll be more fun for the fans, and likely non-hockey fans as well.
This, along with the ball hockey program led by former NHL-er Andrew Ference, are steps in the right direction to grow the game of hockey. Soccer (football) is the most popular sport in the world because all that is needed is a ball and anything that can stand in place of a goal. This program could be a step in getting that same level of familiarity and comfort around the sport. Just pick up a stick, get a ball, and get going.
And all of this isn’t even mentioning the hockey itself that will be played, arguably the most important part of the entire event.
Now, for seasoned hockey fans, the All Star Game and Weekend in general can feel like unnecessary fan-fare. Similarly to opinions expressed by agitated fans in other sports, some have called the All Star Game meaningless, especially with the change in format to a three-on-three tournament. The ultra traditionalists also point to the lack of defense and physicality in the All Star Game, which has been interpreted as a lack of passion to actually win the game.
However, even if the All Star Game has turned into primarily a showcase of hockey’s best-of from a purely offensive perspective, this will still be a huge draw for neutral individuals, and those who are new to the sport in general. New fans will want to see goals being scored, and plenty of goals will be scored.
When you combine the unique events and premises being devised, alongside the potential wide appeal having an event in such a public place as the Las Vegas strip, and plans that are friendly to non-hockey fans (the ball hockey program) you get a massive chance for the NHL to grow hockey and its own image.
It just depends on whether they can capitalize on what they are trying to build.