Ok, I’m calling it early. The NHL All-Star Game hosted in Raleigh is, and will be, the top local marketing story of 2011. And that’s before the Super Bowl.
I’m not just saying that because of the spectacle and magnitude of an affair that accompanies a professional sport. I’m saying it because of execution – when the message counted, it was delivered. “Raleigh is open for business, y’all come now.”
Of course it’s not that simple. The back story is that the Carolina Hurricanes and hockey faced naysayers from the beginning. Hockey would never stick in a Southern backwater. Even after a Stanley Cup appearance, the viability of the Hurricane franchise was doubted. But the Triangle grew and changed. Transplants from all over the country continue to arrive, bringing their love of the sport and seeking an anchor to their new community experience. The Hurricanes became that anchor. No longer separated by the big three (Duke, N.C. State, UNC) folks had a reason to come together. But take your hats off to Peter Karmanos, Jim Rutherford and crew. While hockey provided the reason, the Hurricanes created the experience.
Full confession: As one of the few remaining N.C. natives, I was a naysayer and never a hockey fan – until my now five-year-old began to discover hockey two years ago. We are now converts.
Here’s what you need to know: The Hurricanes have created a very good family entertainment experience. I’m delighted to bring my family. Other fans are nice to my kids. The views are good. The competition is good. It can be a bit pricey, but I never feel ripped off. I want to come back. Again and again. We watch on TV. We follow in the paper. We get excited about 18-year-old Jeff Skinner hitting the big-time and secretly hope our daughter finds a nice boy like him some day.
The Hurricanes experience laid the foundation for the NHL All-Star game. Since awarding the game to Raleigh, folks have anxiously awaited the event and wondered if Raleigh would measure up? Did it ever. Ask Sports Illustrated’s Michael Farber (“Venue will go down as biggest star of NHL’s All-Star weekend“). Or the Ottawa Citizen (“Pressure’s on Ottawa to keep the Raleigh going“). According to the Toronto Sun, “Raleigh — home of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes — did wonders for the credibility of its NHL franchise over the last few days when North Carolina’s capital city proved to be passionate hosts for the 2011 All-Star festivities.”
Raleigh and its Triangle neighbors won kudos for its enthusiasm, execution and dare I say it, Southern hospitality. It was as if the Almighty himself wanted in on the fun, delivering mid-60 degree temperatures throughout the weekend. Folks turned out, turned on and tuned in – 3.35 million viewers in the third period.
The subtext in this story is that Raleigh needed to put it’s best face forward. With the stunning announcement of the Progress Energy-Duke Energy merger, the city stands to lose it sole Fortune 500 company. Along with the merger go lots of high paying jobs, support for the arts and other community groups and a major downtown tenant – all signatures of stable cities. During the All-Star weekend, many folks were smiling, when deep down they were worried about Raleigh’s future. Heck, even the Krispy Kreme satellite outlet downtown closed this week.
The NHL All-Star Game gave Raleigh a chance to showcase itself to the world. While we’re still measuring outputs for now. I’m confident that the citizens of our fair community will reap the rewards of this weekend’s endeavors for years to come.
Well done, Raleigh. Go Canes!