LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles area hockey fans got a head start on the beginning of the 2009-10 hockey season this past weekend with the Los Angeles Kings wrapping up their inaugural HockeyFest on Sunday.
The weekend of events included several well-received panel discussions featuring current Kings players, front office staff and alumni, along with a large tent filled with hockey-related games for kids and adults alike and several exhibits, including all of the National Hockey League’s award trophies, except for the Stanley Cup.
HockeyFest 09 was highlighted by Saturday’s panel featuring the famed Triple Crown Line of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor along with Sunday’s panel featuring long-time play-by-play announcer Bob Miller.
HockeyFest 09 drew a significant number of fans who were immersed in all things Kings and it appears that the event was a success.
“Everybody I’ve talked to loved the panels—hearing from these guys and hearing some stories,” said Miller, who received a standing ovation from the crowd after his own panel, Bob Miller’s One-Man Show. “The interactive things they have over in the tent for kids—kids don’t want to see a jersey in a glass case [or speakers at a panel discussion]. They want to go over and shoot pucks and stuff. So it’s got a little bit for everyone.”
“It was what we expected,” said Kings President/Business Operations Luc Robitaille. “It ran a lot smoother—we were getting ready for anything that could happen and I think people were so happy.”
“Numbers-wise, it was what we expected,” added Robitaille. “I think our tickets [sold] were about 3,200. I think we had over 4,000 tickets out there altogether. So for the first year, that’s great. But more important, our fans got to see the behind the scenes of our organization.”
Miller, who is entering his 37th season as the “Voice of the Kings,” pointed out that HockeyFest 09 gave fans access to the team that they no longer have.
“It think it’s good,” said Miller. “Every fan I’ve talked to has said ‘we’re having a great time.’ Like I said on Friday night, this is a hockey fan’s dream because these days, they have very little access to players.”
“Years ago at the Forum [in Inglewood, California, their home arena from late December, 1967 until the 1999-2000 season], teams stayed overnight, the players would be in the Forum Club and they’d go out walking out in the parking lot,” added Miller. “But now, since 9/11, with all the security and everything else, fans don’t get that opportunity and I think we forget that.”
“Fans don’t get that chance to go up to [Anze] Kopitar and [Dustin] Brown and say, ‘hey, I really enjoyed… .’ So it’s a thrill for them to see them. That’s why Tip-A-King is so good and some of the things we do for season ticket holders.”
Speaking of the players, they too saw the significance of the event, especially in terms of interacting with their fans.
“It’s been really good,” said Kings right wing and team captain Dustin Brown. “I think it’s one of those things that builds excitement for everyone involved. Before the season, it’s a good idea. You don’t have the discussions about the current things that are going on with the team. The thing I’ve noticed is fans telling us how much they appreciate everything we do.”
“That’s the best thing for us as players,” added Brown. “It’s not about our game last night or if we’re on a ten-game winning streak or a ten-game losing streak. It’s just about the fans’ appreciation. They let us know and that’s a big help.”
Plans are for HockeyFest to be an annual event and Robitaille was pleased with the start of a new tradition.
“Our fans have so much passion for our team, just the fact that we’re doing something for them in August, they just enjoyed it,” said Robitaille. “To see the tent packed most of the time, to see the sessions going the way they were going, I couldn’t ask for a better first year.”
Of course, the event served a greater purpose than just to engage their fans.
“If you want to throw it over to the business side, we were on the [local television] news every night this weekend, we’ve got all of you [the print media] here today—that never happens here in LA,” said Robitaille. “We never talk hockey in August. From that standpoint, it was a big success.”
In the spirit of HockeyFest becoming an annual tradition, Robitaille said that the Kings want feedback from attendees.
“So far, we haven’t heard any complaints but we do want our fans to come back to us to see what other [alumni and others] that they want to hear from and if there’s any complaints,” he said. “We want to improve this every year.”
For their first year, the event seemed to go rather smoothly, with few kinks.
“I can’t tell you until we do a recap if we had problems,” Robitaille explained. “It was great. It was easy to get in and out of the theatre [and] to go into the tent.”
“The people who work for us behind the scenes—it was amazing how smooth it ran,” Robitaille elaborated. “To see the tent and what it looked like—it was so impressive the first time I saw it, I was blown away.”
But looking ahead, the big question mark is just how much of an impact the event made on people beyond Kings season ticket holders and hard core hockey fans. In other words, will HockeyFest 09 help the Kings grow their fan base?
“I hope it’s going to be significant,” said Miller. “I don’t know how many people other than the hard core hockey fan we’re attracting, to be honest. You’d like to have someone say ‘let’s go and meet some of these guys [the players].’ I’ve always been under the impression that when you meet someone, now you’re interested in what they do, whether it’s somebody on television or a player. ‘Gee, I met that guy. Let’s go to the game and watch him play.’”
But Miller added that even if few people outside of season ticket holders and hard core fans were in attendance, that is not necesarily a bad thing.
“Most of the people we’ve seen here are Kings season ticket holders and hard core fans,” said Miller. “But in these economic times, you’ve got to give them something, too. You’ve got to give them something to get them to come back. I’m sure they’ll sit down and evaluate things that they did here, how it was accepted and what they’re going to do next year.”
Another challenge for the Kings was the fact that here in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, there are so many choices people have in terms of things to do and so much competition for their entertainment dollars.
“It’s such a big city,” Robitaille emphasized. “You do an event like this in Edmonton, it’s pretty easy to market. But here in Los Angeles, there’s so much to do. We knew our fans would come back, but we went real big this year. We’re never going to change. We want to go as big as we can and make this thing as important as we think it is.”
For long-time fans, HockeyFest brought back a flood of memories from days long past and it was no different for Robitaille, who got to reminisce about, “…the Triple Crown Line…to hear them talking and for me, to see Bernie [Nicholls] back and obviously, to hear Bob Miller, that was a treat,” he said.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.