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Volume 23 No. 18
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All-Star Game rejoins NHL’s big-event lineup

After skipping the last two years — first because of a lockout, then because of the Olympics — the NHL All-Star Game returns on Sunday in Columbus.

It’s a comeback that’s been eagerly anticipated by the league, which once again is looking to capitalize on a spotlight event.

After a two-year absence, the NHL All-Star Game returns on Sunday in Columbus.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
“Holding big events is one of the strategies to continue to grow the league, and any time you can get a collection of stars like this in one place is a great opportunity,” said John Collins, NHL chief operating officer. “But not only for the league — for the rights holders internationally and in North America; our corporate partners; and the host cities.”

The NHL will do its best to take over the city of Columbus over the course of the weekend. The league will hold its All-Star Fantasy Draft on Friday, an event presented by recently added league sponsor DraftKings (SportsBusiness Journal, Nov. 10-16, 2014, issue). The skills competition will take place on Saturday, and the game itself will be held on Sunday, with Honda serving as the title sponsor of both of those events. The league also will have a fan fair that will run all three days (see box).

ALL-STAR SPONSOR RUNDOWN

The NHL Fan Fair, the league’s three-day hockey-themed event, will be set up at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. In addition to player and alumni appearances and a display of NHL trophies (including the Stanley Cup), more than 20 partners will activate on-site with a variety of interactive games and activities.

The lineup of this year’s partners for All-Star weekend:

TITLE SPONSOR (ALL-STAR GAME AND SKILLS COMPETITION): Honda
PRESENTING PARTNERS: Bridgestone, Coors Light
ADDITIONAL PARTNERS: AMP Energy, Anco, Compuware, Constellation Energy, Discover, DraftKings*, Enterprise, Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Geico, McDonald’s, Molson Canadian, Oscar Mayer, Pepsi, Reebok, Sheraton, SirusXM, Ticketmaster, Upper Deck, York

* Presenting sponsor of Friday night All-Star Fantasy Draft

For the league, it’s a showcase opportunity less than a month removed from its Jan. 1 Winter Classic — and a month ahead of its next outdoor Stadium Series game.

“What we’ve seen from a lot of the big events is that this puts hockey front and center in the markets while we’re in that place, even in places that frankly, hockey isn’t always in the front,” Collins said. “For the hosting club as well, an event like this is able to raise their profile beyond just their on-ice performance, and it’s a chance for us to also reward Columbus for being such a great marketplace for that organization.”

For the league’s partners, there’s an increased level of interest in this year’s All-Star Game given its absence the past two seasons, said Keith Wachtel, NHL executive vice president of global partnerships.

{podcast}

NHL Wrap-Around Podcast:
A conversation with Chris Zelkovich, Yahoo Sports Canada media expert, on how the NHL Canadian TV deal with Rogers is faring as well as whether the NHL has hit Winter Classic fatigue.

“The last time coming out of the Olympics, the All-Star Game [in 2011] saw an increase in viewership,” he said. “In a way, we feel the time away just makes people more interested, and there’s a higher level of anticipation, which provides our partners a bigger platform.”

Having the game back on the calendar also allows for a chance to activate at a different time of the year, as well as with a longer duration compared to an event like an outdoor game.

“This is a three-day event, while for something like the Winter Classic, it’s contained to one,” Wachtel said. “For someone like Honda, who now owns a number of elements of All-Star Weekend, this provides a huge opportunity in a market where they have one of their biggest facilities and a large number of customers.”

Another key, Wachtel said, is that having this event allows partners to activate in a more creative manner.

“One of the biggest differences between activation at this game and the Winter Classic is that it allows us to do things that we wouldn’t necessarily do during a game that was worth two points [in the standings],” he said. For example, Discover will be sponsoring a program that will have a child serve as a “stick kid” during the skills competition and aid the equipment managers.

The NHL is also using the event as a platform to test out technology. During the game and the skills competition, a Sportvision-based system featuring computer chips in jerseys and pucks will be used to track action on the ice. The recorded data will be presented during both NBC’s and Rogers’ on-air broadcasts, as well in a number of digital applications by the NHL.

“It’s a great opportunity to test the best players in the league’s reaction to some of the technology we think can help improve the game,” Collins said. “We’re potentially looking to introduce this kind of technology next season, and this is the first time we’re going to put it in the hands of the players.”

The game additionally will provide a unique perspective for Epix, which will be recording behind-the-scenes footage over the weekend for its upcoming “Road to the NHL Stadium Series” miniseries. That showcase leads up to the Los Angeles-San Jose game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Feb. 21.

“All-star games in any league are not played at the same intensity as a regular-season game, but it’s a game for our fans to see all the players together, an opportunity for our partners, and an opportunity for the league as well,” Collins said. “We view the All-Star Game as a very important platform for all the things we’re trying to do.”