Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vision, facilities lead to successful All-Star Weekend

The ultra-successful All-Star Weekend in Raleigh was a testament to two critical factors when it comes to professional sports – facilities and vision.

Raleigh had the foresight to commit to building the RBC Center before it had a hockey team, which was a key reason the Hartford Whalers moved south. Pro teams follow the money, and money often means a swank place to play with friendly rent.

Raleigh’s big mistake, as the weekend also highlighted, was the failure to build the arena downtown. Then-mayor Tom Fetzer led the decision to go to cheaper land at the Fairgrounds, even though the downtown renaissance was already under way. The expectation then was businesses would grow up around the new arena, but that hope has never materialized. Meanwhile, the downtown area was the focus of three days of partying for the weekend.

Also due a heaping amount of credit is Jim Cain, the Raleigh product who was the Carolina Hurricanes’ president at a time when the future of the franchise was no given. Cain’s name hasn’t come up much in the reports on the weekend, but he was essential to what happened this weekend.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promised an All-Star Game in five years if the Canes hit 12,000 season tickets, and Carolina announced on May 31, 2001, that it had sold 12,309 season tickets. A late push by Harris Teeter, which bought 1,000 season tickets, put Carolina over the goal.

“People don’t have to talk about this franchise anymore as a franchise that doesn’t care about hockey,” Cain said at the time. “We’ve got a great community here, a great fan-base and a great organization.”

The NHL hemmed and hawed on its commitment but finally delivered this weekend. The wait was longer than it should have been but wow, was it worth it.

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