ORLANDO, FLA – The last time a professional hockey league held its all-star game in the City Beautiful, the year was 1998 and the International Hockey League’s showcase event featured players including future NHL star Martin St. Louis. The memories made back then may be faded but come January of 2015, new ones will be made.
On Monday, August 12 at the Amway Center, officials from the city of Orlando, the ECHL and the Orlando Solar Bears gathered to officially announce that the 2015 CCM/ECHL All-Star Game would be coming to Central Florida. It will be the cornerstone of what will be a nearly week-long celebration of the sport.
“We’re very pleased to be able to bring our All-Star event to Orlando,” ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said after the introductory press conference. “It’s a terrific location. All the various attractions in the middle of January in a world class facility really gives us an opportunity to bring our event to a new level.”
The game, which will be presented by Visit Orlando, will be the final event of what is expected to be a full six days of hockey built into and around and following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. It will begin on the previous Friday with the Orlando Youth Hockey/MLK Jr. Tournament at the RDV Sportsplex in nearby Maitland. It is expected that more than 50 teams from across the U.S. and Canada will participate in the four-day competition. It will be the tenth anniversary of the tournament, making it that much more special.
McKenna said that adding the youth hockey event to the all-star calendar will make it more like a festival. He also said he hopes that this will become a blueprint for future all-star events.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is make this more than just a game – make it a celebration of hockey, a hockey festival if you will, over a period of several days. There’s no better way to do that than to have youth sports, youth hockey involved,” he said. “Exposing the kids to the game, letting them play (and) letting them participate but still be a part of our event, we hope is something that in future years other teams will use as a model.”
Once the tournament ends, the ECHL fun will kick in. Tuesday, January 20 and Wednesday, January 21 will be chock full of events that fans will enjoy.
“We’ll roll out a lot of these events as we go but All-Star Tuesday with the Fan Fest and
All-Star Wednesday with an open practice in the morning, our Hall of Fame luncheon in the afternoon then the game on Wednesday night plus a few other surprises,” Solar Bears Managing Partner and C.E.O. Jason Siegel said. “We’ve got the Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit coming so there’s going to be quite a bit more that we’ll add as we get closer to the event.”
The 1998 IHL game, which was won by the west squad, drew 10,176 to the old Orlando Arena. According to McKenna, the record for attendance at an ECHL all-star game is 11,493 set also in 1998 when it was played at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana back in the heyday of the old “I-10 rivalry” (the teams in Jacksonville and Pensacola, FL, Biloxi, MS and Lafayette staged some epic contests that drew thousands). McKenna said that the Orlando location should provide a boost that could break the record.
“We expect to not only have great attendance here but also probably our highest number of visitors from across the country to see the game as well,” he said.
Visitors from across the country translates into direct economic impact within the local community. From hotel rooms to restaurants to shopping, visitors mean money for businesses. McKenna said that studies done for the ECHL indicate that an all-star event can bring as much as $1 million dollars to the host city.
When asked about anticipated economic impact, Siegel said that a lot of factors will go into a final analysis of how Orlando will benefit including city size, hotel availability, attractions and more. He added that teaming with Visit Orlando, the city’s tourism arm, will hopefully make for a healthy financial windfall for local businesses.
“Hopefully we’ll have people come to the game but stay, stay for the attractions, restaurants and spend time or come experience Orlando for the first time and come back,” Siegel said. “That’s the role we play and Visit Orlando is excited to be part of that.”
With the success of the event being directly tied to benefits for the community, the Solar Bears and Visit Orlando have enlisted the help of a long list of community and business leaders to join in. John Bisignano, chairman of the Central Florida Sports Commission, said that credit for bringing events like the ECHL All-Star Game is very much a team effort.
“When you think about this destination, we have four pillars. One is the destination with 57 million guests. Two is the assets – the hotels, the theme parks and the attractions and then (third) the venue, the Amway Center, which is great,” Bisignano said. “(Finally) is the team. For that team that is coming together, having hockey – not just any hockey but an all-star game – coming to our backyard just is great for this destination. It’s great for the core fan who is coming into (the market) because we know they’re going to get a great experience, other visitors who are going to be on vacation at that time will be part of it and for us locals who are true hockey fans. It’s something really, really special.”
The game will be the last in a series of high profile events that the Amway Center will host in a span of 18 months. That list includes the recently completed AFL ArenaBowl championship game that brought an estimated $15-20 million in spending, the NCAA mens’ basketball tournament in March of 2014 and finally the ECHL event. Add in the fact that the city and county recently agreed to help fund a soccer-only stadium which should guarantee an MLS team to the downtown area and it is no wonder why Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was all smiles.
“When we built the Amway Center, this is exactly what we told Central Florida that we would be able to do,” Dyer said. “From bringing (in) world renowned musicians and concerts – Paul McCartney opened his latest tour here – to all-star games and ArenaBowls, we can hold anything here.”
In the end, it is all about the game and the memories that will be made. Like everyone else in attendance, Siegel said he hopes that fans will be able to look back, just like they do every time St. Louis takes the ice in a Tampa Bay Lightning NHL jersey, and have fond recollections about the year that the ECHL’s best gathered in the City Beautiful.
“It’ll be exciting to have the stars from around the league coming here and playing, especially for the die-hard hockey fan to be able to come here and see future stars, to be able to interact with them (in a way) that you might not be able to do at a different venue or different event,” he said. “No question you want to be able to look back and talk about all the players who came through.”
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