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Despite All-Star bid, fans feeling ‘blue’

Courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets

You might think that hosting the 2013 National Hockey League All-Star Game would be enough to satisfy Columbus Blue Jackets fans, but for some, it isn’t.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced Saturday during his annual All-Star Weekend address that the city of Columbus, the Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena will host the 2013 NHL All-Star Game.

“The Blue Jackets did a terrific job of hosting the NHL Entry Draft in 2007 and we have no doubt that we’ll have a good time there with the All-Star game,” Bettman said during his address in Ottawa, Ontario, site of the 2012 All-Star Game. “We look forward to bringing all of these events and all of our guests to Columbus.”

Just hours later — and about 660 miles away from where Bettman made the announcement — hundreds of Blue Jackets fans gathered in the plaza outside Nationwide Arena to protest the team, currently buried at the bottom of the league standings. The two events made for a day that a Blue Jackets beat writer described as “peculiar.”

Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman praised the NHL’s announcement in a press release, saying the decision bolsters the city’s reputation as a premier national sports destination.

“The Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the nation’s best examples of sports acting as a major economic catalyst,” Coleman said in the release. “When Nationwide Arena was built in 2000, it was the centerpiece of Columbus’ Arena District, which has revitalized our Downtown and our city and gained national acclaim as one of the best redeveloped urban entertainment complexes in the United States.”

The All-Star Game represents $50 million in media revenue and $12 million in visitor spending, according to the release.

Despite the game’s lucrative implications, fans protested the Blue Jackets’ current on-ice product, which has seen the team earn an NHL-worst 32 points through 49 games in the standings.

Aaron Portzline, a Blue Jackets beat writer for The Columbus Dispatch, said the league’s announcement coupled with the fan protest made for a “weird” day in Blue Jackets history.

“There was such a wide range of events and emotions,” Portzline said. “I don’t think any franchise can be entirely excited they’ve got 250 or 300 people outside of their building protesting for change and a new direction (for the team).”

Todd Sharrock, vice president of public relations for the Blue Jackets, said he stood outside Nationwide Arena Saturday and answered the questions of the protestors.

“We know fans are frustrated,” Sharrock said in an email to The Lantern. “We were there (Saturday) because everyone who attended did so because they care very deeply about our team. We have great appreciation for that passion and commitment. The strength of our fan base is one of the reasons the NHL All-Star Celebration is coming to Columbus a year from now.”

Portzline agreed, saying the protest was evidence of an engaged fan base, something the league likely placed value on during the decision-making process to award Columbus the All-Star game.

“I think it’s reassuring to a lot of people that the fan base is still really engaged and wants (the Blue Jackets) to be a good team,” Portzline said. “I think what this means is that the league sees Columbus as a viable and, in some ways, a thriving, engaged hockey market.”

The NHL did not immediately return The Lantern’s Sunday request for comment.

Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson said the All-Star game will have a significant impact on the city.

“It’s really a great piece of news for the city to be able to host an event like this,” Howson said.

Andy Gerow, a second-year in sports and leisure studies, said he thinks having the game in Columbus is great, but understands why others are protesting.

“I know a lot of people aren’t big hockey fans so I think bringing an All-Star game to Columbus will do a lot for the game and maybe get more attention from people around Columbus and maybe Ohio State too,” Gerow said. “I can understand why people are protesting because we are so bad, but I think you gotta give everybody a chance and maybe they don’t understand how much it’ll do for the team and kind of the city to maybe get more support from the team.”

When All-Star festivities commence less than a year from now, even the fans that protested on Saturday could find themselves getting swept up in festivities.

Portzline, who has covered six NHL All-Star games during his time as a hockey beat writer, said the event will likely consume Columbus’ downtown area.

“What (the All-Star Game) does is it takes over the city,” he said. “You’ll have people coming from Europe. You’ll have Canadian fans coming. It becomes a weekend party. This will be a really good time to own a bar in the Arena District, I can guarantee you that.”

The Blue Jackets continue play after the current All-Star break with a Tuesday game against the San Jose Sharks. The 2013 NHL All-Star Weekend is scheduled for Jan. 26 and 27 next year.

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