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November 26, 2014

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Hockey:

Both smart and dumb’: Latest quirky Wranglers promotion takes swipe at NHL lockout

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Stephen Sylvanie/Special to the Sun

A professional Harold Camping impersonator drops a ceremonial puck between team captains Mike Madill and Dylan Yeo during “Rapture Night” as the Wranglers and Reign faced off at Orleans Arena on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011.

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A pensive Billy Johnson.

Las Vegas Wranglers President Billy Johnson loves promotions that are quirky and outside of the box. So when people in the Wranglers front office came up with a way to mock the locked out National Hockey League, Johnson was all for it.

Next up on the Wranglers' list of goofy promotions: the Indoor Winter Classic, set to take place Jan. 1 against the Ontario Reign.

The Indoor Winter Classic joins other tongue-in-cheek promotions such as the Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night, Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night and last year's Rapture Night: The Last Hockey Game on Earth.

"They make me laugh. So that's good. It makes us relevant to people who have an ax to grind," Johnson said. "Every year something is going to come up, and this year it was the lockout.

"There are a lot of people who aren't happy about this lockout."

All of the events feature some slight changes to the hockey-watching experience. For example, during Rod Blagojevich Prison Night, the players wore prison-themed uniforms, the penalty box had faux-prison bars on them and the referees dressed up as prison guards.

Last year, T-shirts were given away with the slogan: "The Last Hockey Game on Earth."

"It's relevant, but we get to poke fun at things and bring people together," Johnson said of the yearly promotion.

It's no different for the Indoor Winter Classic.

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Wrangler fans stream through the Orleans Arena ticketed entrance as the gates opened to usher in the start of the 10th season of Las Vegas Wrangler hockey on Friday night.

The idea is to best replicate the NHL's famed Winter Classic — a professional hockey game played outdoors — indoors. The canceled NHL classic was slated to feature the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at the University of Michigan's football stadium in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1.

Doors around the Orleans Arena will be open, allowing air into the arena in hopes of making it cooler than usual. Johnson said there also are talks of potentially getting snow to fall inside the arena.

"The world's first outdoor game inside," Johnson said. "We're hope that it's actually cold out. We want people to bundle up. We hope there will be some snow flurries."

The off-the-wall promotion has gotten national attention, as it was picked up by sports website Deadspin.

The latest chapter in the quirky marketing ploys was purely an idea during an early Tuesday meeting. Within hours, the idea turned into a reality capped off by a press release sent out at 4:07 p.m.

A trophy is being created in anticipation for the event, but Johnson said it won't be anything extravagant.

"Maybe a lock, chain and some duct tape," Johnson said of the trophy.

Johnson understands that some people may think the promotions are pointless and don't add to the experience. Despite those feelings, Johnson and his staff will continue to create fun and culturally relevant promotions.

"At the end of the day, as silly as these things are, these things are smart. They can be both smart and dumb," Johnson said.

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