Columbus should be proud of themselves with the impression they left the hockey community with this weekend. They took hold of an event a few years in the making and made it memorable for fans and players, both in the city and around the continent.
There are plenty of things from the weekend that Nashville should take stock of, as well as things they can do to make the experience even more enjoyable.
Flaunt the Personality of the City
Nashville has more than enough to go around, and for visitors expecting boots and cowboy hats for a weekend, why not give it to them?
Say what you will about the frequency of the Cannon, but that thing is so uniquely Blue Jackets that they would be kicking themselves if they didn't use it at every chance they could. People are going to be talking about its All-Star assault for years, which means they did everything right.
Music is the staple of the city, so beat that dead horse until it comes back to life. The locals may get sick of it, but it will leave a mark with the tourists.
The Fantasy Draft in Columbus was held in a tiny corner of the Fan Fair, only open to a small group of fans. But they don't have the Ryman. Or heck, even have it at Bridgestone so everyone can come. The outdoor skating rink was great...can you imagine this somewhere on Broadway?
Plaster Downtown (and Beyond) With Predators Faces
You've probably started to notice more people wearing Preds gear out in public than in recent memory. The exciting, bordering on elite team that has manifested this year has reinvigorated a loyal fan base. It's also left the door wide open for newbies to jump on the bandwagon, especially when Nashville has the opportunity to be successful for several more years.
With that in mind, the organization and the city should go out of its way to make sure you can hardly turn a corner without seeing a giant Pekka Rinne or Filip Forsberg telling you when the game is. In Columbus, Nationwide Arena was covered head to toe with logos, Blue Jackets and other NHL players. Throughout the entire Arena District, banners hung from light poles, entire buses were dressed up in All-Star garb, and the branding was everywhere. Even if you weren't a big hockey fan you got the sense something big was happening January 23-25.
The internal hockey world may hate the ASG (more on that in a second), but the casual fan or ignorant local doesn't know that. If the Music City Center is adorned with Shea Webers, James Neals, Sidney Crosbys and Tyler Seguins, and seemingly every street has some sort of gold in sight, they'll see it as a huge deal. That can generate even more interest at a time when the team has the highest chance of putting butts in Bridgestone seats.
(Also, this would be a great chance to use and promote The Green Line, which is a free bus route that circulates around the city. If the city wanted to test further, make a Gold Line that runs from the 5th/Broadway area into West End/Midtown. Columbus had crosswalks from the convention center directly to many of the hotels. Nashville doesn't have that, but can offer some simple transportation solutions to ease accessibility to the area for this event. And who knows, they may actually stick. -DB)
Prepare for the Grumps That Hate the Game, Then Ignore Them
Look, the actual All-Star Game is not real hockey but, like mentioned above, that still doesn't stop plenty of people (in the media and elsewhere) from endlessly complaining about it. The important thing to remember is that has nothing to do with Nashville personally. Hell, if anything, more people are excited about coming to Nashville for that weekend than any other city in recent memory. They might even make it to some of the events, should their hangovers dissipate in time.
If there was anything we learned in Columbus, it was that the entire weekend is less about the events and more about promoting a product and showing off the best parts of the city. We probably had more fun playing jersey bingo, talking to locals and tourists alike, and just basking in the atmosphere created by hundreds of diverse fans converging on one location. For all the moaning and groaning the two hours worth of half-speed skating gets, there are countless more worth enjoying. Sean Gentillie of the Sporting News said it best:
Just let the game be what it is; cotton candy. Marshmallow fluff. Nothing substantive. If it organically assumes a different form down the line, fine, but right now, take it at face value. The fantasy draft, at long last, is a blast. The Skills Competition is guaranteed to provide a few memories. That's enough.
When Ordering Merchandise, Double-Check Your Math
There's no question that game merchandise was very popular in Columbus. Two players on the "Home" team didn't hurt...in fact, we heard from a Confidential Source that the entire city was nearly out of the black home jersey a couple of hours before the game on Sunday, along with several other items. I wonder if the run on gear had anything to do with Columbus being a small-market team not accustomed to being awarded too many league-wide events? And does this sound like another city you know? I'm anticipating demand will be VERY HIGH here next year. Hopefully, the team will plan accordingly.
(From a fan perspective, make a note to yourself to purchase early next year if you see something you like. I had my eye on one particular item at the Fan Fair on Saturday, but since I was "working" and didn't really want to lug it around all day, I waited. When we went to the Fan Fair on Sunday, it was cleaned out. I'm talking like half the area had been emptied out, and the rest had been picked over pretty good. I got extremely lucky to find what I wanted at the arena, and if I had arrived about 30 minutes after I did, I would've missed out. Pull the trigger early...you'll be glad you did.-JZ)
(And never underestimate the amount of people that would actually buy a James Neal/Craig Smith ASG jersey if named a captain. I couldn't take 12 steps anywhere without seeing a Nick Foligno jersey. And credit to that guy, he probably had more fun that anyone and seems like a great teammate. -DB)
Embrace the Entertainment Component
This can't be stressed enough. Between the players actually showing personality (Jonathan Toews knows jokes?), hamming it up for the fans during the Skills Competition, and putting live music on the ice, there is so much room showmanship. Especially in an entertainment centered city like Nashville.
Could you imagine what it would be like if the NHL could lock down noted Preds fans Taylor Swift and/or Brad Paisley as their musical acts? Say what you will about the choice of musicians in the past, and how that's a crazy pipe dream, but those type of names would garner major attention. What if the Black Keys played "Gold on the Ceiling" while the players were introduced before the game? They have ties to the city as well.
Coupled with how entertaining the Fantasy Draft was this year, and how much fun the Skills Competition can be every year, there is so much room for upward mobility. This may be something the league itself could learn from Columbus, rather than Nashville personally, but imagine the steely gaze of the captain of Team Weber mixed with the jovial antics of the captain of Team Ovechkin.
Those are our immediate takeaways. What did you see this weekend that you want done in Nashville? What about things you want the league to completely stay away from? Sound off in the comments.