It was -24C in downtown Edmonton yesterday morning (just in case y'all were wondering, the high here yesterday was 81F...*snicker*). Yeah, it was a REAL weenie-shrinker, but it was almost perfect hockey weather- unless you're a goalie.
"I think maybe I'll need a Chivas or two to stay warm," whispered José Theodore.
"Larry Robinson had a good suggestion for you yesterday," Theodore was told.
"I asked him, 'If your name was José Theodore and you had to stand there for three hours in this cold, what would you do?' "
"What did he say?" asked Theo.
"He said he'd change positions."
"Larry is a very smart man," said Theo. "I never thought of that."
Even so, it was a celebration of old-time hockey. Most of those who played in the game- and many who sat in the stands and watched and Canadian TV- grew up plaing pond hockey. I did as well, growing up as I did in northern Minnesota about 90 minutes south of the Canadian border. So, yes, it was a stroll down Memory Lane for many folks. My only regret was that I couldn't watch it, because ESPN and ABC were showing NCAA f*****g football.
OK, so it was a little on the cold side, but at least the ice conditions weren't a problem. The Oilers and the NHL did a brilliant job of marketing the game- In Canada. Many of us here in the US would have loved to have the opportunity to watch this moment in hockey history. Too bad the suits at Cap Cities couldn't see their way clear to being a part of this.
So it was left to Rema Thomas, a government office worker in Edmonton, to bring the National Hockey League's flirtation with something different -- its first regular-season game held outdoors and preceded by an alumni game -- into some kind of perspective.
"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," said Thomas from the wheelchair station in Section K of Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. "My only regret is that the Canadiens (old-timers) didn't score a goal."
Despite the outpouring of good feeling, it's difficult to say where this is will lead. As a marketing event, a revenue producer, and a to-be-seen-at event, it was a stunning success. But a tremendous roll of the dice didn't come up all sevens and elevens for the Oilers and the NHL in their joint foray into cutting-edge marketing. Quite frankly it was too cold for just about everyone's liking.
The Oilers risked millions, but they will reap the rewards. No one is yet willing to put a final price tag on costs or returns, but Alan Watt, the Oilers vice president for marketing and communications, did say that there were "several million dollars at stake on the revenue side and the expense side." He also said that it would be months before the bottom lines are tallied.
Given the magnitude of the event and the size of the record crowd -- 57,167 -- profit figures substantially upward of $1.5 million do not appear to be out of line. All of it is ticketed to the Oilers' coffers. It was, after all, their home game. The Canadiens and the NHL were just along for the ride.
Of course, leave it to the NHL marketing weenies to go all out for an event that wouldn't even be seen in the US- and yes, those ARE US television dollars and ticket revenues that are keeping the NHL afloat. Gary Bettman and NHL senior management needs to pull their collective anterior out of their collective posterior and figure how to market NHL hockey in this country. No, the NHL will likely never supplant NASCAR, the NFL, or the NBA, but it is arguably the fastest, most exciting, and most action-packed sport out there. Of course, you'd never know it judging by the league's marketing efforts. (Cheesy alternate jerseys?? Gag me....)
My hat goes off to the Edmonton Oilers for putting on one hell of a memorable spectacle. I only wish I could have been there- or at least had been given the opportunity to watch it on television.