Last week, the ECHL announced that the Orlando Solar Bears would host the league’s 2015 All-Star Game, to take place in January during the 2014-15 season – well over a year away.
That’s all well and good, but it failed to address the fact that the league still hasn’t announced a host for the 2014 ECHL All-Star Game – you know, the one that is to take place during the 2013-14 season, which starts in just a few months.
After the Orlando announcement was circulated, I sent Joe Babik (ECHL Director of Communications) an e-mail and asked about the location of the 2014 “mid-season classic.”
His official response: “At this time, no teams have expressed an interest in hosting the 2014 All-Star Game.”
So there you have it, folks. The ECHL’s 2014 All-Star Game is up for grabs. You don’t even necessarily have to be the “highest bidder,” so to speak. Any bidder will do. Anybody who wants it can have it. Please. Someone just bid on this thing. The league would really appreciate it. Just make sure your arena is available on January 22.
If no teams step forward and “express an interest” in serving as 2014 host, it would not be the first time the ECHL has gone without an All-Star Game. There was no such contest in January 2012, during the 2011-12 season. However, the ECHL has held an All-Star Game every other year since 1993.
Five of the last six ECHL All-Star Games have been hosted by Western Conference teams, with the Colorado Eagles and the city of Loveland having served as the most recent hosts in 2013. Other recent hosts have been Bakersfield (2011), Ontario (2010), Reading (2009), Stockton (2008) and Boise (2007).
The ECHL generally used a “conference vs. conference” format for the All-Star Game until 2011, when the format was changed to the host team playing a collection of All-Stars from throughout the league. Since the switch, both host teams have lost – the All-Stars beat Colorodo 7-3 in 2013 and Bakersfield 9-3 in 2011.
Like the NHL’s version, the ECHL All-Star Game has always been a high-scoring affair without much emphasis on defense or physical play. The winning team has never scored fewer than 6 goals, and the game has averaged more than 13 total goals each year. And given the dearth of physicality in All-Star Games, 10-year veteran winger Sean Rowe once told the Anchorage Daily News that he liked to call them “Nolan Ryans” – i.e., no-hitters.
In recent years, the ECHL has faced some criticism from fans due to a shift toward featuring younger prospects in the All-Star Game, instead of more-established stars. As an example, the 2013 ECHL All-Star Game featured just two of the league’s Top 10 scorers – and one of those two was in the game by default because he played for the host team.
But despite the game’s finesse nature and perhaps a lack of true star power, recent ECHL All-Star Games have performed well at the box office. The past five have all attracted more than 5000 fans, including a capacity crowd of 5289 in Colorado last season. The attendance is particularly impressive when you consider that the game is always held on a Wednesday, which is not exactly a “prime” night for minor league sports.
And while the game may have its shortcomings, the event is not just about the All-Star Game itself. Other standard festivities include the ECHL All-Star Skills Competition, the annual ECHL All-Star & Hall of Fame Luncheon, and a Fan Fest that features a variety of ECHL memorabilia and exhibits. Plus, at 12 of the last 13 ECHL All-Star Games, both the Stanley Cup and the ECHL’s Kelly Cup have been on display.
Logistically and competitively, however, hosting the All-Star Game is not an easy or ideal undertaking. The host team’s staffers put in hours upon hours of overtime in an effort to organize the whole event while also keeping up with their regular in-season duties, and the team’s players and hockey staff have to play and work an extra game while the rest of the league’s teams enjoy a league-mandated three-day break.
Before Stockton hosted in 2008, Thunder President Dan Chapman told The Record that everyone was “very excited about getting a chance to do this,” but also admitted that “it can be tough on the staff.” Chapman did credit the league for being an active partner in the process, stating that “they’ve helped us every step of the way.”
Hosting is not necessarily a financially-beneficial endeavor either, as many of the All-Star Game expenses are solely the responsibility of the host team. The hosts must provide all transportation to and from the host city, plus hotel accommodations and meals. While sponsors might help defray the costs of hotels and meals, travel is certainly a major expense. (For instance, a round-trip flight from Anchorage to Evansville in January would cost over $700.)
The ECHL’s contract with the Professional Hockey Players Association also stipulates that every player who participates in the All-Star Game is paid $300 by the host team. While $300 may not sound like much, multiply that by the number of participating players and the salary price tag explodes. (The 2013 ECHL All-Star Game featured 37 total players, so player salaries alone topped $11,000.)
And unless the host team owns its home arena, you also must factor in an additional payment of game-day rent – often a significant investment in its own right. As an example, the IceMen organization would have pay more than $10,000 to use the Ford Center for an All-Star Game, as outlined in the team’s lease with the City of Evansville.
Prior to Colorado’s turn as host in 2013, Eagles President and General Manager Chris Stewart told The Coloradoan that it would be “hard to project” if the team could turn a modest profit on the event. Still, Stewart felt like hosting was a worthwhile venture due to the positive impression made on fans, players and sponsors. He said the game was “a great opportunity to showcase what we have here” and that there was “absolutely no negative to us hosting this event.”
Perhaps the greatest positive of the All-Star Game is exposure for the host team and city, as well as all players involved. Representatives from throughout the NHL and AHL attend each year, and the game is broadcast to a nationwide audience on NHL Network and various regional sports networks.
The ECHL claims that more than 60 of its All-Stars have gone on to play in the NHL. The league also says that each of the past nine ECHL All-Star Games has generated more than $1 million for the host city’s local economy.
So will any ECHL city’s local economy will be the beneficiary of that windfall in 2014, or will the ECHL go without an All-Star Game for the second time in three seasons? Stay tuned…
UPDATE (July 2):
Stick tap to IceMen fan Jacob Franklin for pointing out that yesterday’s “ECHL Week” webcast stated that there will not be a 2014 ECHL All-Star Game. This is the first (and so far only) statement from any league source about such a decision. I have sought confirmation from Joe Babik, and will share his response if/when I receive it.
UPDATE (July 3):
I received a response from Joe Babik on July 3. The league’s official update is as follows: “No official decision has been made at this time, but obviously, time is running very short for any team(s) who would be interested in hosting the 2014 All-Star Game.” So it sounds rather likely that there will not be an All-Star Game this season, but the event has not yet been officially scrapped.