Kings of the road
It’s almost time for Kings hockey, and that’s the case whether you happen to live in the greater Los Angeles area, Phoenix, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Anaheim, Germany or Sweden. From late September — the start of preseason play — to mid-October, the team will definitely be the Kings of the road. The preseason starts with split-squad games on Sept. 21 against Phoenix — one here, one there — and also includes two games at Staples Center and one in Anaheim, plus the annual Frozen Fury game in Las Vegas against Colorado (Oct. 1) and a game against Pittsburgh at the Sprint Center in Kansas City (Sept. 27), plus a road game at Colorado. After the Vegas game, it’s off to Europe for a preseason game in Hamburg and regular-season games in Stockholm and Berlin.
Of course, not every player/coach will make every preseason trip, but if you were to hit every game — including the two post-Europe games in New Jersey and Philadelphia — you’d be flying a total of 16,870 miles in 26 days. Hopefully not in a middle seat.
Tickets are still on sale for the games in Las Vegas and Kansas City, but both are expected to sell out. That’s notable in terms of the Kansas City game, given that the Sprint Center holds 17,752 for hockey. The Kings played there in 2008 and drew 11,603, then again in 2009 and drew 9,972. The Sprint Center is owned by the city and operated by AEG, so the tie-in with the Kings is obvious. I spoke with Chris McGowan, the Kings’ chief operating officer, about the preseason games and the games in Europe, and why they take place…
Question: Over the years, the Vegas game seems to have evolved into a happening, instead of just a preseason game. What’s the importance of that game on your side of things?
MCGOWAN: “It’s viewed as important because it’s one of those unique events that we have on the calendar that we’ve been doing consistently. It’s an event that has become a tradition, and fans really look forward to going out to Las Vegas for a special weekend of Kings hockey. I think it’s just so unique. There’s really nothing like it around the NHL, where you go into a different market and play a preseason game every year like we do. So it has just been built into something that people put on their calendar every year and say, `I’m going to Vegas for the weekend and I’m going to enjoy a hockey game as well.’ Organizationally, it’s an important thing for us as well. For our business, it’s important for us to get a lot of Kings fans out in Las Vegas. There are a lot of Southern California natives who live out there who have grown to like hockey and like the Kings. There are a lot of people who drive to games from Vegas, or fly in and go to games. And they can get our games on TV out there, so it’s an important market to have a bunch of Kings fans there. We’ve been building in that market for 13, 14 years, and it’s a good market to build our brand.”
Question: Most fans understand why the Vegas game is done. Maybe fewer understand the Kansas City game. Is that more important to the AEG side of things? What’s the benefit on the Kings’ side?
MCGOWAN: “Clearly, there’s an importance on the AEG side of things. It’s an AEG building, and it’s good when us, as the Kings, can go and do something that helps AEG as a whole. AEG is a great owner for us, so we always like to repay them back, so to speak, and put another great event in the Sprint Center, which is another good hockey market. But I also think it’s good for the Kings as well. As your team gets better and has a wider appeal throughout the country, it’s good. I have no problem with having Kings fans in Kansas City who can go online, watch Center Ice or go on NHL.com and buy a jersey. As you’re building a brand, it’s just good to play in as many places as you can in the country. I also like going to Europe. Taking the Kings brand where it’s typically not, overall it’s just good for our organization.”
Question: And, if you sell out that game, it makes the market look stronger if there happens to be an NHL possibility…
MCGOWAN: “It’s definitely not a bad thing when you’re talking about a preseason game selling out, and when you’re talking about a potential market for a team to go there.”
Question: Then with Europe, that’s obviously a big investment in terms of time, resources, etc. What is the trade-off there, in terms of what you invest versus what you get out of it?
MCGOWAN: “As an organization, we just kind of all come together, from Dean and Ron, Tim on the AEG side and me and Luc on the business side, and just determine if it’s something that makes sense for our organization. We all kind of have a gut check, get in a room and sign off on it and then go for it. The same thing applies, playing in Hamburg, playing in Berlin, taking the Kings to different places is, I think, a good thing for the NHL but also for the Kings. I think it’s just a unique thing. The players, it’s tough on them because the travel requirements are a little extensive, but I think when they look back on their careers, to be able to say they played NHL games in Berlin and Stockholm, I think that’s something they’re going to look back on fondly. It’s going to be cool to see how many Anze Kopitar fans come to Berlin. For a lot of those people, that’s going to be their only chance to ever see him play a live game, and I think that’s really unique. When we went to London (in 2007) and we played in Austria, I was amazed at the amount of Kopitar fans who were there. I think that’s just a cool thing to be a part of. Then, financially, it all makes sense for us. The league does very well on it and it’s another way for us to help AEG, by playing in AEG buildings, so it makes sense all around.”