Area Businesses Net Hockey Assist

January 23, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — It’s not just a hockey game. It’s a world-class event taking place in Grand Rapids.

The 2004 Pepsi All-Star Classic proposes to show off the Van Andel Arena, the city, and the event’s business sponsors to households across North America. An estimate from the American Hockey League has the game and the skills competition being televised to 100 million households in the U.S. and Canada on no fewer than 19 regional networks.

And because the Grand Rapids Griffins, an AHL franchise owned by Dan and Pamella DeVos and David Van Andel, convinced the league to bring the event here, the city will get an economic boost of at least $350,000.

“Special events, such as this, add to the national exposure of our community. It will get very good press coverage, opportunities to showcase Grand Rapids and West Michigan throughout the nation,” said Steve Wilson, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Anytime that you have an event that has exposure outside of our market, it helps with the overall exposure for the venue and the market,” said Rich MacKeigan, SMG general manager of the arena.

Believe it or not, Grand Rapids is the furthest west the classic has ever been and AHL President and CEO David Andrews wanted it that way.

“It’s a chance for the league to highlight its expansion,” said Bob Sack, vice president of marketing and sales for DP Fox, the majority owner of the Griffins.

Two years ago, the AHL brought six old IHL franchises into its fold. Five of those are in much larger markets than the Griffins. Yet, Grand Rapids, and not Chicago, Houston or Salt Lake City, was the first former “I” to get the All-Star “A” nod. That notice came a year ago.

“It helps the Griffins to position itself in the second-best hockey league in the world,” said Sack. “This town has created a great deal of pride for the Griffins and the city. An event of this status improves the quality of life and we want to make the city proud.”

So do local businesses, as they have stepped forward. More than 75 local and national sponsors have agreed to underwrite the event in some form or another, led by the lead sponsor, Pepsi-Cola.

DP Fox Director of Corporate Sales Lance Hartman said the Pepsi Bottling Group of Grand Rapids landed the cola maker and producer of other top beverages as the event’s premier sponsor. Area Subway restaurants, Walter Dimmick Shell stations, IdeaSphere’s Twinlabs nutritional supplements, Wesco convenience stores, and D&W and Family Fare grocery outlets have joined Pepsi as major sponsors.

“The 2004 Pepsi All-Star Classic is one of the premier events to ever visit Grand Rapids, and we are proud to enlist the support of these fine retailers to help make this a fantastic time for everyone in West Michigan,” said Will Warren, local Pepsi market unit general manager.

Foremost Insurance, Gordon Food Service and Meijer Inc. are also taking part.

“It’s a very good mix for us,” said Hartman of the event’s long list of sponsors, and added that roughly 90 percent of the inventory has been sold. “Local sponsors will be promoted right alongside national sponsors like Disney.”

Roughly 2,000 tickets remain to both the skills competition on Feb. 8 and the All-Star Game on Feb. 9. Businesses interested in sponsorships, which include tickets, or just tickets should contact Hartman at 774-4585, Ext. 3037.

Another event that business owners should find interesting is the All-Star luncheon on Feb. 9. URS Corp. is sponsoring it. NHL Hall-of-Fame head coach Scotty Bowman is its featured speaker and Billy Smith and Grant Fuhr, two NHL Hall-of-Fame goaltenders, are the event’s special guests. About 70 tickets at $40 each were still available last week. An All-Star player or AHL owner will be seated at each table, which will be set up on the arena floor.

“I think you could have some great business dialog at the luncheon,” said Hartman. “I think the events will be very attractive to employees and clients.”

The upcoming all-star event is the second to be hosted by the Griffins, who brought the 1997 IHL celebration here. So how do the two compare? Sack said the business aspects were comparable. But, from a product standpoint, he felt the AHL version was a cut above due to the league’s ties to the NHL.

“We had a beeline on this thing,” said Sack, who began talks with the AHL in December 2001 about coming here. “The league wanted to go west and the team got great support. The fans got us this game.”    

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