On September 15th, the Blue Jackets will play their first preseason game of the 2013-2014 season. The Pittsburgh Penguins will make the trip to Nationwide Arena, and I am sure there will be plenty of fans excited to see the team take the ice for the first time. However, as hockey fans we understand that NHL preseason action is not for the casual fan and for the most part, the general public will be more interested in the start of football season or the MLB playoff race. It’s because of this competition for attention that some NHL teams try to generate interest and grow their brand by holding games at neutral sites.
This September, the New York Islanders will play one preseason game against the New jersey Devils in their future home, the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY. An Islanders / Devils preseason game would normally not gain too much attention, but the first Islanders game in Brooklyn will be a big event. Over in the world of the NBA, this practice is common. The Cleveland Cavaliers announced three neutral site games for the 2013 preseason: Canton, Columbus, and Cincinnati.
With an eight game preseason, four of which will be played at Nationwide Arena, would it not serve the Columbus Blue Jackets better to take two of these home games to neutral sites in Ohio? Two ideal candidates for neutral site games would be Cleveland and Cincinnati. Both cities are large and situated within manageable driving distance to Columbus. In addition, both cities have arenas that are hockey ready.The Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland is home to the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters and the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati is the home of the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones.
Cleveland and Cincinnati also have a rich hockey history. Cleveland has been home to several minor league teams, as well as the WHA’s Cleveland Crusaders, and the NHL’s Cleveland Barons. Cincinnati was the home of the WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers. Hockey fans at these neutral sites would be excited to see the NHL come to their city for one night. The Blue Jackets could turn an ordinary preseason game into a big event that could introduce fans to the team.
The Jackets have made attempts to gain interest from fans outside of Columbus by showing up at community events, but to really grow their brand the CBJ may have to take the game to its potential fans.