PENTICTON, B.C. — The Economics of Connor McDavid begin here, in a sleepy Southern Okanagan retirement city that has found a niche as the host of the Young Stars Classic rookies tournament these past five years.
Money. This kid means money to everybody involved.
For the Oilers, who open a new building next season with higher seat prices and the usual multi-year seat commitments; for Sportsnet, which will feature McDavid and the Oilers on roughly half of our late games on Saturday nights — a Greater Toronto kid who will deliver ratings in Southern Ontario beyond what Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the other Oilers have delivered thus far.
And even for the people here in Penticton, who have never faced sell-out issues before like the ones they are so happily met with this weekend.
“Every year we’ve hosted the event, attendance has grown,” said Carla Seddon, Director of Marketing for the South Okanagan Events Centre where the tournament is played. “But this year in particular, there definitely has been a lot more interest.”
The tournament brings together the last four draft classes, give or take, from the Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks. The salability of McDavid and the Oilers has taken attendance to new levels, Seddon said.
“Before tickets even went on sale we had tour groups calling from Edmonton wanting to secure tickets, so they could secure hotel rooms and start selling packages to people in Edmonton. We knew then that it would be bigger than the other years,” she said.
There are a few tickets left for the Oilers’ final tournament game, Monday at 11:30 a.m. PT against the Jets, Seddon reports.
“And we’re waiting to get some tickets back from some of the teams, so we’re hoping to release a handful tickets for the first two Oilers games. But they’re basically sold out.”
The McDavid commerce will benefit the Oilers’ coffers, re-energizing a fan base that is likely to watch their team match an NHL record with its tenth consecutive playoff miss this season. Even the most frustrated Oilers ticket holder reconsidered their frustrations on the day NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly flipped that golden lottery placard over, and submitted their renewal cheques.
The prices will rise with the new building, as they always do. But even in an economic downturn, if McDavid is as good as many of his new NHL peers say he is, who would walk away from this project at this time in its history?
In the short term, the University of Alberta Golden Bears and the Oilers’ charity — the Oilers Community Foundation — will benefit from McDavid’s arrival. Their annual fundraiser game, set for Wednesday, Sept. 16, has been shifted from the 3,000-seat Clare Drake Arena on the U of A campus to Rexall Place.
The Golden Bears won’t improve their tale in what has become their biggest fundraiser of the season, but they will be exposed to far more eyes with the game played at Rexall, in a series where they’ve beaten the Oiler Rookies 13 times in 24 meetings. So far more than 10,000 tickets have been sold at $30 a pop.
“It’s a win-win,” said Golden Bears GM Stan Marple. “You can expose a lot more people to Golden Bears hockey by playing at Rexall, and at the same time, there are lots of Edmonton Oilers fans who don’t get to see some of the prospects that they draft, or see Connor McDavid. More people will get to see some of the hopefuls trying out, and most importantly, we’ll raise some funds for the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.”
Of course, for hockey fans across the country, the most lucrative spin-off of McDavid’s arrival in Edmonton will be if this franchise can pull itself off the mat and show the product — not just the promise — of all these skilled young players.
And with that might come the resurrection of the Battle of Alberta, a rivalry that has been covered in mothballs for a solid decade.
“Both teams can say for years that it has probably not been the rivalry it was for so many years,” Calgary GM Brad Treliving admitted. “Any time there’s Calgary-Edmonton, it’s special. It’s more special when you have two teams, hopefully, that are trending upwards and look like there is some hope in the future.
“You put a world-class player — a player who has done more than any player his age — and you plop him into this rivalry? You darned well better get better. Because you know [the Oilers] have.”
Calgary’s playoff story went two rounds last spring, but outside of that, Alberta has been the irrelevant province among Canada’s NHL clubs for a long, long time. McDavid changes that in a hurry — again, if he is as good as advertised.
And a revitalized Battle of Alberta will put money in everybody’s pocket — the Flames included.
“Listen, he’s a world-class talent,” Treliving said. “So, when you look at Connor McDavid going into Edmonton, in what is already some very explosive young talent, a team that’s on the brink of doing some really good things … You add him to the mix and it takes it up a whole other level.
“What that does for us is, the high tide floats all boats,” he said. “You have to be better. You have no other choice.”