Putting its big-event strategy to a grueling test, the NHL is about to produce three outdoor games over five days on two coasts.
Final preparations are taking place this week for the opening of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, which begins Saturday night when the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks play at Dodger Stadium. It continues next week, with two games at Yankee Stadium featuring the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.
Here’s a look at some of the key players:
Fans approaching the two stadiums will not be able to miss the centerpiece of MillerCoors’ on-site activation. A mountain of ice, 30 feet tall and 50 feet wide, will be the head-turner at Spectator Plaza, the league’s activation zone.
Each mountain will have 50 tunnels that hold 500 “chill pucks,” Coors-branded, puck-shaped coolers that are attachable to the bottom of beer cans. “Coors Light explorers” (drawing from the brand’s ongoing ad campaign) will rappel the mountain at the command of fans who sign up to participate in a contest at the site.
|Workers (above) begin rink assembly at Dodger Stadium. An ice mountain (below) will mark MillerCoors’ activation zones in New York and L.A.
“It’s one of the greatest examples of on-site activation I’ve ever seen,” said Brian Jennings, NHL senior vice president and chief marketing officer, who has been with the league for more than two decades.
“They’ll help strengthen our relationship with hockey fans in a unique way, and we’ll have fun while doing it,” Pfeiffer said of the activation.
The ice mountain — created by production agency VWV USA and MillerCoors’ PR agency of record, Olson Engage — was designed specifically for the Stadium Series. Besides the four games of the series, which concludes March 1 with a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field, the West Coast ice mountain will be at the The Grove mall in Los Angeles from noon until 6 p.m. local time the day before the Dodger Stadium game.
Among the other NHL sponsors participating at the Spectator Plazas in Los Angeles and New York will be Verizon, Advil, Honda, Upper Deck and Geico.
NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins has managed to stay even keel during these recent weeks between the blockbuster NHL Winter Classic, which drew more than 105,000 spectators to Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day, and the lower-key and locally based Stadium Series games.
Of the three January games, only the Rangers-Devils tilt (Sunday) was sold out as of last Wednesday, but league executives expect near-capacity crowds for Saturday night’s Kings-Ducks game and the Rangers-Islanders game on Jan. 29. The final game of the series (Blackhawks-Penguins, in Chicago) sold out in less than 24 hours.
“These outdoor games are kind of the face of our business plan,” Collins said. “We said that, as a league, we’re growing into a $4 billion industry, with 20 [percent] to 22 percent coming from national deals, so there’s a reason why we’re starting in the major markets, with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It gives Coors Light, Verizon and our other big partners some of the scale to activate in a big way, but also tie in with their local retailers, distributors and sales forces.”
As the league pushed the limits with this ambitious schedule of three stadium games in less than a week, one concern was whether the NHL staff would be spread too thin. Most of the league’s divisions, including events, marketing, licensing, corporate sales and public relations, were split between working the games in the Bronx and temporarily relocating from New York to Los Angeles for most of January for the Dodger Stadium game.
“I’ve been astounded at the work ethic and can-do attitude of the staff,” Jennings said. “It’s been almost a 24/7 approach to the job. It’s been an opportunity for many of our people to step up and say, ‘Hey, I can run with this.’ There’s no doubt that this has stretched us, but the men and women of our organization have really risen to the occasion.”
Collins calls Don Renzulli, the NHL’s executive vice president of events, “the MVP of this entire operation from day one.” Renzulli, an events executive with the NFL and Cleveland Browns for a combined 14 years before joining the NHL in 2007, brought on his former colleague Jim Steeg — with three decades of NFL experience — last summer to help plan the Winter Classic and outdoor games in Los Angeles and Chicago.
The NHL also retained the following companies as consultants for the Stadium Series:
■ Populous: Events drawings and architecture
■ BaAM Productions: Rink-building
■ Kreate Inc: Spectator Plaza arrangements
■ RK Productions: Entertainment
■ Infinite Scale: Décor
With the Dodger Stadium rink remaining in place until Jan. 28 and the Yankee Stadium rink available until Feb. 8, all of the participating teams are taking advantage of the opportunity to host fan and charitable events.
The Rangers, for example, are hosting a skating party at Yankee Stadium on Feb. 7 for season-ticket holders who renewed their 2013-14 season tickets using a Chase (team sponsor) credit or debit card. There will be seven sessions to accommodate the 2,000 fans expected to participate. The next day, the team will host a youth hockey festival at the stadium for more than 2,000 children — a combination of youth hockey players and first-time skaters affiliated with Rangers programs.
The club also is conducting an essay contest, asking the question, “What makes the youth hockey experience so unique to you and your child?” The author of the best answer, as selected by the Rangers, wins for his or her team 40 tickets to the Jan. 29 outdoor game against the Islanders and a one-hour hockey practice on the rink at Yankee Stadium.
“Being part of two games in the Stadium Series has become a great platform to connect with our avid fans and create some new ones,” said MSG Sports President Dave Howard. “When you look at two rivalry games, a historic venue and bringing the game back to its roots by playing outdoors in the winter, this has been an incredible opportunity for our franchise. With the cooperation of the league and the Yankees, we’ve been able to make the best of it.”