Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 09/07/07 at 08:31 AM ET
by George James Malik
The Red Wings’ decision to offer “filler seats” on a discounted basis is nothing but great news for a fan base that’s dealing with a less than spectacular Michigan economy, and, combined with the fact that the Red Wings aren’t actually charging full price for their exhibition game tickets, it’s downright progressive.
But before you go dancing in the streets, Wings fans, let’s put this in perspective. The seats are at $9—presumably for the last-row upper-bowl seats that cost $22, because it’s $50 from the halfway point of the upper bowl down—$22, $44, and $54. There is a “maximum of two per person” caveat, and there’s no indication as to whether this condition is applied on a game-by-game basis, or whether that’s all you can buy for the entire month. These seats are going to be released to the public after the halfway point of the calendar month preceeding the games to which they apply, and there is no indication whether there’s a “facilities fee” added on for our convenience.
These are seat-fillers, designed to increase attendance on a game-by-game basis, to fill in those scores of empty seats that plagued the Joe for somewhere between half and three quarters of their 42 regular-season playoff games and 9 playoff games. This is still a ticket to a game where parking at the Joe garage is $16, parking on the Cobo Roof is $6, and the per-game savings are more than made up by any concessions you should purchase at the rink—the usual $3.50 hot dog, $6 beer, or $19.75 “$5 Hot and Ready” Little Caesar’s pizza.
Combined with the fact that the Red Wings’ “Fire on Ice” marketing campaign will actually include radio, print, and TV ads, this is an effort to market the team that we really haven’t seen in about ten years, and it’s all good news—it should be applauded, just understood for what it is.
All of that being said, it does not let the Red Wings off the hook for the PR policies several of our KK readers and myself been talking about over at Abel to Yzerman for the last week. Unless you can afford to attend training camp in Traverse City, nearly 250 miles north of Detroit, or you are attending the Red Wings’ charity softball game on Sunday, you as a fan will not have much access to the team on a person-to-person game for the rest of the season—save the single open practice—with the exception of two charity events that cost you approximately $250 per person.
The media coverage is restricted, sometimes censored. One example is the fact that Jiri Fischer’s status was never discussed, save a few simple “he’s around” mentions, until the first anniversary of his heart arrhymia, when ESPN and Sportsnet were allowed to interview him and reveal that Fischer both worked out under the Wings’ medical staff and wore a heart monitor 24-hours-a-day. Aside from a few pictures of Fischer travelling with the team in the playoffs, or a mention of Fischer possibly being offered a scouting position with the team, we haven’t heard of him since.
Regrettably, that “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is applied to the majority of the Red Wings’ players, who are sheltered from the media, and, as HockeyInHD pointed out (see comments), rendered almost two-dimensional because we never really get to know them as people, save perhaps the two hours of actual, original Red Wings Weekly footage that is endlessly looped through the Wings’ relatively bland broadcasts (ever heard of a 3 Stars interview, or a during-the-game interview with a coach? Watch a Kings broadcast) or a few radio interviews. Their charity work, which is said to be substantial, is not promoted or praised in the media, the web content related to the Red Wings’ players is restricted to a simple biography and some highlighs on an official website that is as spare as can be, and the Red Wings’ policy toward player access can be summed up in the fact that they guard the players’ tunnel—should one want to “slap hands” with their players, or even get close to the bench, a friendly security guard will threaten to kick them out of the building.
If I were to want to simply say, “Hello, my name is George, nice to meet you” to a Red Wings player, and then walk merrily on my way, or even just say, “Hey, way to go,” I have a better chance of doing so at a chance encounter at Cheli’s Chili or at Ikea than I do by any other means, and if I want a player autograph that doesn’t involve paying money and standing in line at a card show, I can do so—by going to a game Columbus or Chicago.
In an NHL where there are “goodwill ambassadors,” meet and greets, open practices, web and content that can include player blogs, Q and A’s with the coaching staff or GM, and insightful stories in the mainstream media, Hockeytown is a place where the line between team and fan is clearly and strictly delineated.
Discounted “seat-filler” seats and less-than-full-price exhibition games are absolutely fabulous. They’re great steps forward.
They are also only the start if the Red Wings and their PR department are truly interested in making Hockeytown hockey-crazy and fan-friendly. That’s going to take a real investment in making “Fire on Ice” more than a mediocre slogan.
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