You’d have to be Canadian, or at least someone who pays attention to the sport of hockey while visiting the Great White North, to understand the affection the citizenry of O Canada has for its national sport.
Then again, how could Canadians, or visitors, not pay attention? Every night, on almost every channel, there are lengthy broadcast segments devoted to hockey news, and not just a quick recap of who won that evening’s games. More like the in-depth attention Americans lavish on the endless procession of celebrity “happenings.”
That’s why the promotional events planned for the season opener of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks matter to more than just casual fans, who might be tempted to fork over for tickets in exchange for some bobblehead giveaway, or maybe creepy hockey goalie masks free to the first five thousand wanna-be serial killers under 12 who make it through the turnstiles.
No, in Canada, there are no “casual” hockey fans, and no lame promotions, like a magnetic team schedule you’re supposed to stick on your fridge.
Instead, the Canucks’ front office reached out to the team’s season ticket holders with the following come-on: “Bacon, beer and a meat draw.”
Blend in three hours of action-packed fighting (and hockey) on the ice, at least as much action in the stands, and what more would any true fan want on a Friday night?
An Opening Night to Remember
So, how did the Canucks deliver on the bacon, beer and meat promotion? According to a report in The Province online news site, along with a new “Family Zone” featuring games, 25-cent lemonade and kid-sized food portions, the following amenities were available at Rogers Arena:
- A new food stand selling just bacon
- A meat draw
- Free beer
As The Province reported, “Credit to the Canucks for thinking outside the box.”
Tickets for the meat draw at $5, $10 and $20 were sold during pre-game festivities and at team store locations during the game. The winner got $500 worth of “delicious cuts,” according to a team spokesman, and the funds that were raised went to the “Canucks for Kids” Fund, a longstanding nonprofit that contributes to charities supporting children’s health, wellness and educational initiatives — and since this is Canada, grassroots hockey development programs across British Columbia.
Canucks chief operating officer Jeff Stipec said he gave his staff “license to look at things differently” at the end of the 2016-17 season as a way to revamp the business side of the franchise. According to the story, Stipec wanted “any and all ideas on the table” for 2017-18.
“Hence, the meat draw,” he said.
The meat draw is based on what was a staple of Royal Canadian Legion branches and still is in many small-town pubs, including an establishment called the 70 Mile Pub in the Cariboo, the mountainous interior of British Columbia, where Stipec owns a cabin.
Thus, he “loved the idea of a meat draw” when it was presented to him, The Province reported.
Hey, what’s there not to love?
Oh, and the free beer? That was an actual promotion.
On opening night, hockey fans who arrived early at the arena received a free drink ticket, and yes, “beer [was] an option,” according to the story.
As if free beer, a bacon-only booth and $500 worth of meat wasn’t enough to get fans to the game, Canucks management promised one more change: “Fewer interviews on the big screen, more replays, and definitely more music.”
“One of [our] internal lines is ‘less talk, more rock,’ ” Stipec said. “The game of hockey between whistles, we don’t want to mess with that. We really try to respect the game.”
But when the whistle sounds, it’s free beer, unlimited bacon and lots of meat for everyone.
God bless you, Canada, the True North strong and free!
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.