In January of 2013, the Columbus Blue Jackets will host the biggest NHL-related event at Nationwide Arena since the 2007 draft – the 2013 NHL All-Star Game… assuming, of course, that they can avoid an NHL strike.
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the Players’ Association expires on September 15, with training camps scheduled to get underway the following week. As discussions drag on, ever encroaching on those dates, it’s looking more and more likely that the season will not begin on time.
Should the NHL lockout drag into November, the next casualty will be the All-Star Game in Columbus. Losing the game would be a major loss of potential “hockey related revenue” that both sides are fighting over in the current negotiations.
The game is more than just a fun night for the fans to watch the best players in hockey take they ice together. It’s also an enormous marketing tool for the league, its stars, and its host city. The impact of losing the All-Star Game would be significant, especially in a developing market like Columbus.
The 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, North Carolina, brought the city an estimated $11.4M in out-of-town spending. The game also resulted in an increase in hockey-related spending by locals, as well as increased awareness of both the city and the team for out-of-towners. As hosts of the game, Raleigh generated $49 million in media and marketing value for the region.
“NHL All-Star Weekend ranks as the biggest single-weekend sporting event ever hosted in Raleigh, in terms of direct visitor spending. It was a huge success any way you measure it,” said Scott Dupree, vice president for sports marketing of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The team also saw a boost in attendance following the All-Star Game. The Hurricanes averaged nearly 2,000 more fans per game following the All-Star Game than they had over the first half of the season. Granted, this coincides with games played after the completion of the professional and college football seasons, which certainly helps with drawing focus to hockey in North Carolina, but one can’t help but figure that the All-Star Game boosted those numbers even further thanks to the regional awareness created through such a major event. Overall, their year-end attendance jumped 7.7% from the previous year. Carolina missed the playoffs both seasons, so at least part of the increase was likely related to the All Star Game.
Columbus could certainly use the help. They’ve posted back-to-back years in the bottom five of NHL attendance. In eight of their eleven seasons, they’ve had a lower attendance number than the previous year. The All-Star Game should help raise awareness of the team and hockey overall in Ohio. Financially, the game would also mean a lot to Columbus. While lease issues with Nationwide Arena have been sorted out, this is still an organization that lost $25 million in 2010-11 and has lost over $80 million since 2004-05. Certainly, an influx of revenue from an All-Star Game could help by potentially offsetting an entire season’s worth of losses for the Blue Jackets.
All hope is not lost for Columbus, though. If a strike obliterates the upcoming All-Star Game, the city will likely get another kick at the can in the coming years.
The lockout of 1994 resulted in the cancellation of over 100 NHL games and delayed the start of the season to January of 1995. That year’s All-Star Game, slated for San Jose, was cancelled. The Sharks eventually got to host the festivities in 1997.
Atlanta’s Philips Arena was set to be the location for the 2005 All-Star Game. With both sides at an impasse at the start of the season, games started getting cancelled. Word came down in November that the All-Star Game would also be dropped. Fruitless negotiations followed over the next few months, ultimately resulting in the loss of the entire 2004-05 campaign. Three seasons later, Atlanta played host to the 2008 All-Star Game.
There may be no NHL All Star Game in 2014 because of the Winter Olympics. NHL player participation in those Olympics is another topic being addressed in the CBA negotiations. The earliest the All-Star Game could return to the Buckeye State would be in 2015.
For a team that’s struggling to find its footing, fans, and finances; that could be too long.