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Volume 23 No. 18
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NHL All-Star Game back with a bang

The NHL All-Star Game, which took a hiatus in 2010 due to the Vancouver Olympics, returned this year with robust viewership, an innovative new event in the All-Star Draft and a high level of engagement from the host city, Raleigh.

Nielsen ratings for the Jan. 30 telecast on Versus rose 33 percent from 2009 numbers, earning a 1.2 average rating, or 1.5 million viewers. The average rating for the Jan. 29 skills competition, which traditionally has lagged behind the game, also rose from a 0.7 in 2009 (870,000 viewers) to a 1.0 rating this year (1.18 million).

In Canada, CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” recorded its largest audience for an All-Star Game with 2.39 million viewers, up 56 percent from 2009 (1.53 million viewers).

The game also sold out without a public sale. Carolina Hurricanes season-ticket holders, team and league partners and staff accounted for all 18,680 tickets.

ON DRAFT: Much of the buzz at this year’s game revolved around the new format, which saw players Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom pick teams during the Jan. 28 All-Star Draft. The televised draft was staged in the Raleigh Convention Center at the Fan Fair expo, drawing a 0.5 rating on Versus (624,000 viewers) and 1.5 million Canadian viewers on TSN, or roughly double the regular-season game average for both networks. The draft, which was sponsored by Cisco and produced by TSN, also provided the league a third televised event for the weekend.

“There were a lot of unknowns in [the draft] from the league perspective — what we wanted to do was showcase the players and their personalities,” said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of marketing for the league.

Jennings declined to discuss whether the new event broke even from a revenue perspective, but said a handful of league officials, including Commissioner Gary Bettman, Chief Operating Officer John Collins and Brendan Shanahan, vice president of hockey and business operations, will decide whether the event will return in 2012.

LAST MINUTE: The NHL decided to relocate the 2011 game from Phoenix to Raleigh because of the Coyotes’ bankruptcy this past April, putting considerable stress on local organizers, whose preparation time was cut in half.

“Typically for an event of this magnitude, cities have 18 to 24 months to prepare,” said Scott Dupree, who co-chaired the local organizing committee for the event. “We had nine months. We were just hoping to do the event correctly.”

Raleigh has organized several major sports events in recent years, hosting the opening rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2004 and 2008, the 2002 and 2006 Stanley Cup Final and regional NCAA women’s basketball tournaments in 2002 and 2009. The committee raised a budget of $208,500, and from October through January blanketed downtown with street pole banners and large building-sized ads.

The committee raised an additional $250,000 for a Jan. 28-29 outdoor festival called the All-Star Wide Open, which featured 100 local craft and food vendors and 20 musical acts and attracted 61,000 fans. It also rounded up 1,200 volunteers — the NHL required only 800 — to help staff the event.

ENGAGEMENT: The All-Star Fan Fair, which was operated by the NHL and featured 30 partner exhibits at the Raleigh Convention Center, attracted 32,000 customers (tickets were $10), more than doubling the local committee’s predicted attendance of 15,000.

Technology company Cisco, which renewed its partnership in December, promoted its consumer telepresence technology “Umi” in a converted Winnebago, and allowed fans to speak to players in their hotel rooms on the morning of the game, with 2,500 fans stopping in to see the product. The league’s Guardian Project partnership with comic book icon Stan Lee allowed fans to view the 30 superhero characters through 3-D goggles. Discover, the league’s newest partner, which bought presenting sponsorship for the All-Star Game, took photos of 7,500 individuals beside the Stanley Cup.

“Of all the NHL properties, this seemed like the one that was the most family oriented,” said Jennifer Murillo, Discover’s director of advertising. “It’s not the playoffs or the finals, where your team could be eliminated; it’s a celebration.”