Over the holiday season, I was lucky enough to get away to some warmth and fun while visiting my snow-bird parents in Florida.
Knowing full and well my father and a couple of family friends were huge sports fans like myself we quickly got on the internet and managed to score tickets to not only an Orlando Magic NBA basketball game, but also tickets to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL game, leaving me wondering, “Why the heck does the NHL not take some of the ideas these other sports present to enhance the fan experience?”
Both games were exciting and fun, but the NFL game, left me with possibly my best pro sports experience, short of when I was just a little tyke being led by my father to my first NHL game.
The game itself is fun, but compares to the level of excitement a well-played NHL contest can bring, yet still the NFL is the king of the sporting world, while the NHL sits back in the weeds like it’s redneck cousin, in the grand-scheme of sports popularity.
Hockey is without a doubt a better game, but it’s also an expensive sport and lacks some of the common man factor, since it isn’t a sport for everyone.
After watching the game and discussing things on the way home some ideas were came up with to help enhance the NHL experience and help thrust the NHL game a higher level on the totem pole.
Tailgating is awesome!!!
Almost the best part of the whole NFL experience at Raymond James Stadium was the tailgating aspect. It made for a great day with friends, family and other fans, where people cooked, had some beers, painted faces, wore their team colours and created a camaraderie, which isn’t always there at the NHL games I’ve attended. We didn’t have a hibachi or kick-*** grill like others there, but it was nice to get there early and sit down on some lawn chairs and coolers and have some beers and sandwiches as people walked around and joked. It felt like a great community to be a part of and made me care more about the home team, despite having no affinity for either team. I know this is not an easy thing to do in the NHL since some cities are very cold during the NHL season, and some states/provinces have open alcohol and campfire/hibachi laws on the books, preventing from this sort of experience. One potential solution would to designate a tailgating region and get special permission or have a charity run it, where you may pay more for parking, but it would allow you to have more fun and avoid some of the costs of a $15 beer or $6 hot dog inside.
Another issue is the number of games compared to the NHL, but why not set out a few big promotions for tailgate Saturdays on specific home games during the season. It would make it a bigger even and help get the excitement going for the game.
Hire someone to handle traffic better
As and Ottawa resident, I’ve been to a number of Senators games and a handful of games at other places as well and it’s always a headache getting in and out of the parking for the game. It’s especially frustrating in Ottawa, where the stadium is in Kanata (west end of the city) with a lot of open space and a major highway around it. The fastest I can ever remember getting out of the parking lot after a game is 30 minutes and that was only because we paid for valet parking as a group. Otherwise it would take at least 45 minutes to about an hour and a half to get out of the parking and moving steadily down the highway.
In Tampa, we were guided to our spot by a charitable group, who points out where you park filling closest to farthest by first come first serve, which proved to be a great way of doing things. Nobody was driving around willy nilly looking for the best spot, nobody was trying to get around others to get closer or get out faster. It just ran it’s course the way it’s supposed to go.
On the way out after the game it was even more impressive! We were out of the lot, on the road and to the interstate in roughly 10 minutes as police guided vehicles out and cones forced people to stay in specific lanes and wait their turn. Without all the idiots trying to get out quicker and bypass the lines, traffic went smoother and you’re high from the game was no longer crushed by the loud muttering and cursing of the idiot who just nearly slammed into you to cut you off and gain one spot on his way out.
Never leave a dull moment for the fans
At both the NFL and NBA games, there was always things going on to keep fans, especially young fans active and into the experience. Both games had cheerleaders who were trotted out at specific times to get the crowd going and at the Magic game they were even in the lobby taking pictures for free with fans. Kids and adults alike were loving it.
Before the NBA game started the Orlando Magic had what they called the “Flight Crew” running around the sections playing games with fans, interacting and handing out cheap trinkets like T-shirts and bam bams to young fans to get them into things. Again it really helped get the young fans into the experience and left them with never a dull moment to whine to their parents they were bored.
Also create a fun, focal point or even for each arena… in Tampa, the stadium has a pirate ship, where they fire the cannons for every score and at specific other moments in the game. I realize that is a little on the grandiose scale for a NHL arena, but specialized goal horns or something which was such a spectacle that you’ll always remember it or look forward to it, would go a long way to helping create a must-see event.
Get in your face about community involvement
At the end of the end-zones in Tampa Bay, the edges of the stands are lined with slogans and special seating for groups, which are sponsored and connected to players on the team. One example was Davin’s Dream Team (Davin Joseph), where he has a ticket program for under-privileged kids to come to a game on his dime. While the NHL and players are very charitable, some of their efforts can come across more modestly than other sports and it’d be great to see the good heart these teams and players have showcased more and make them more heroes to the community. Things like this would go a long way helping repair both the NHL players and owners images after the lockout and getting fans back in the building, since it would show how much they care about the community. Ticket programs would be great, offering more player subsidies to help with the high cost of playing hockey, especially for those less fortunate would continue to help getting people interested in the game and creating new fans and possible future talents.
Let some of the personalities show
One of the things I loved at the Buccaneers game was the getting to know your team moments on the jumbo screen. They would ask common questions and it really helped show off some of the players personalities off to the fans. The whole stadium was laughing as one of the guys on the Bucs was saying how much he loves Sponge Bob Square Pants and how he and his daughter never miss a show. It made him more real and more likeable to the fans… someone you felt comfortable to say hello to and root for in the stands. Everyone has some strange quirks about them and it’s what makes them more interesting and relatable. If the NHL 24/7 program on HBO taught us anything… it’s Ilya Bryzgalov loves the universe and random facts. Personalities like this will drive their popularity and the games popularity in the future and you’ve got to showcase that.
Create a section for adults
At the Magic game we went to there was a full bar at the concourse looking onto the court behind our section. So no matter if you needed a beer or snack, you could sit down for a while and have a drink and snack while still watching the game and never missing a moment.
The atmosphere was cool and it was so nice and adult friendly, that some folks who were unlucky enough to have an annoying group of unruly children behind them disrupting their experience, were able to escape to the bar and have a drink and enjoy their experience free of their annoying neighbours. It was such a smart idea, we need more of that in our game.
Coach Dave Dickenson
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