Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL calls on Hollywood to mount celebrity-studded All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — The NHL faced a challenge in bringing this weekend's All-Star Game to Los Angeles. Namely, how could it make its star-studded midseason event stand out in a city where stars and big events are everywhere.

The solution? Snoop Dogg.

"What Los Angeles has to offer is celebrity," said Steve Mayer, the league's chief content officer and executive vice president. "We will bring that touch to the game."

Snoop will headline two events this weekend, whose player participants include the Lightning's Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov. Actors Jon Hamm and Michael J. Fox and singers John Legend and John Ondrasik will take part in a tribute to the NHL's 100 greatest players Friday. Oscar winners Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tim Robbins will play in a celebrity shootout Saturday, and Carly Rae Jepsen, Fifth Harmony and Nick Jonas will perform at Sunday's game.

"One of the selling points when we're selling our city versus other cities is you're in the entertainment capital," said Kathryn Schloessman, president of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission, which works to bring major events to the city. "The owners and the VIPs and the sponsors love that because they want access to the celebrities."

The All-Star weekend is intended to sell the game to more than just a few VIPs and sponsors, though, Mayer said. And it doesn't hurt the NHL that the musical artists scheduled to perform this weekend have more than 35 million Twitter followers combined.

"It's more about hitting the masses," Mayer said. "Because we're in Hollywood, you can do that. For us to be able to get people who maybe haven't watched hockey before but love Nick Jonas, love John Legend, love Fifth Harmony — they tune in to the hockey and they get hooked."

Mayer is no stranger to celebrities or to big events. A nine-time Emmy Award-winner at IMG, where he produced five Olympic Games and five New York City Marathons, among other events, Mayer came to the NHL last January, just in time to put the finishing touches on the 2016 All-Star events in Nashville.

The main event — a three-game minitournament, all played three-on-three — were both hits. The weekend's celebrity participants included singers Amy Grant and Vince Gill (husband and wife and big Predators fans) and Jennifer Nettles, their country music credentials giving the weekend a distinct Nashville twang. But it also raised the bar for this year, forcing the NHL to go beyond drawings of palm trees and pictures of the beach to capture what is special about Southern California.

"We found the nice balance between what is cliche, what is meaningful," Mayer said.

"We looked at how are we combining the Hollywood star with the NHL star. When we knew we were going to Los Angeles, we were like 'Hollywood. Awards show. Big.' If we were going somewhere else, we probably wouldn't take that approach."

A massive three-day fan fair opens at the Convention Center on Thursday. In recognition of the league's 100th birthday, the NHL will announce the final 67 players on its greatest 100 list Friday. And an ice rink constructed across the street from Staples Center will be open for public skating all weekend.

All that will make it difficult for anyone passing through downtown L.A. to escape the All-Star festivities.

"We need to make it a bigger event than just a game," said Luc Robitaille, a Hall of Famer who played 14 seasons for the Kings and is now the team's president of business operations. "Whether you go to the Super Bowl and see all the events around it or you go to the NBA All-Star Game, there's a lot around it.

"The NHL for years kind of held back on those things. We should never be shy. If we can double the number of fans that are aware of the All-Star Game being in Los Angeles, we know we've done a good job."

Robitaille, an eight-time All-Star as a player, warned it's also important that Sunday's game does not get lost amid the concerts, parties, fan fest and tributes. Rather than being anticlimactic, the game should be a fitting encore to the weekend, he said, a chance for the sport's stars to shine for the Hollywood ones.

"You're never going to overshadow (Alex) Ovechkin, (Sidney) Crosby and Connor McDavid," he said. "But having a lot of people around, it makes it a grander event."

Added Mayer: "You can never lose sight of the fact that we've got a game going on. This is the icing, but the cake is pretty special."

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