At the Rink: In NHL’s North Division, Calgary Flames Keep Battle of Alberta Alive in Empty Scotiabank Saddledome
The Flames and Oilers will face off a total of 10 times this season
The National Hockey League was the last of the four major American sports to host a non-bubble regular season. As fans gradually make their return to the seats, how is that affecting in-venue productions and digital content? Similar to At the Ballpark, On the Gridiron, and On the Hardwood, At the Rink will look at the operations of NHL organizations to see how their coping with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and adapting back to a sense of normalcy.
A good sports rivalry catches the attention of both fanbases for a few days before dissipating, but a truly great rivalry is filled with passion that passes down from generation to generation. The long-standing NHL feud between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, dubbed “The Battle of Alberta”, is in the midst of one of its most intriguing periods. At Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames’ production staff is doing what they can to keep the embers burning while fans are away.
“We get to play them 10 times this season, which is awesome for hockey fans in both Edmonton and Calgary,” says Steve Edgar, manager, game presentation, Calgary Flames. “From our perspective, we try to promote our team and hopefully give the guys all they need to go out there and succeed.”
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Fueling the Fire: Four-Decade-Old Rivalry Adds Unique Chapter to the History Books
One of the league’s fiercest rivalries, the Battle of Alberta dates back to the inception of both franchises. After the Edmonton Oilers, formerly of the World Hockey Association, became the NHL’s newest team in 1979, they were the lone representative in the Canadian province. One year later, the former Atlanta Flames moved to Alberta and set up the battle of supremacy that pits Calgary, their most populous city, and the capital of Edmonton. Over its 40-year history, there have been moments of bad blood, but the tension ratcheted up a bit last year with a chunk of on-ice fights, including between goaltenders Cam Talbot and Mike Smith.
“There’s been a lot of physicality between members of each team,” says Edgar. “Heading into this season, everyone was licking their chops to get to these games.”
To match the intensity, the Flames’ in-venue crew is at their best when the Oilers come to town. Videoboard features include specialized content before and during the game. Edgar and his staff, including Senior Director, Game Presentation and Events Geordie Macleod, are toeing the line between firing up their own players while steering clear of providing bulletin board material for the opposition.
“We don’t poke a lot of fun at the opposition since they do have some firepower,” adds Edgar. “We try to respect them because we don’t necessarily want to get on their bad side.”
The Rest of the Schedule: A Mixture of New and Old Prompts Entertain Players on the Ice
Despite the bitterness that the Flames have with the Oilers, they’re also responsible for producing shows against five other Canadian-based teams (Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Vancouver Canucks) in the new North Division. For these games at Stampede Park, content is being focused around two important factors: the players wearing the Flames sweater and their history against the opposing team.
“Our content is catered directly towards the hockey team, so it’s a lot of high-energy music and engaging visuals that help create an atmosphere,” says Edgar. “Most of these elements rotate game after game, so we develop new material and regurgitate some of the older things. When it comes to opponents, we do a bit to cover the matchup. Whether that’s updating a video or showing past highlights, we want to showcase these storylines as much as we can.”
In addition to a constant rotation of production elements, the organization has moved forward with their themed nights this year. While not an official holiday, the province celebrates Family Day on the third Monday of every February. The Flames would usually host throngs of families in the stands, but in 2021, the team recognized the day before their matchup with the Canucks on Feb. 15:
Sponsor Integration: Team Partners Get Involved in Digital Activations
While fans are still watching from home, Edgar and company are bringing the live experience to their living rooms. Working closely with Flames TV, the franchise’s video production department, the game presentation side is giving their onsite talent a nice backdrop for gameday programming. The most notable projects being done are Flames TV Live Pre-Game Show presented by Budweiser, the Alberta Ram Dealers Intermission Live after the first and second periods, and the Alberta Ram Dealers Post-Game Live. All shows are hosted by Brendan Parker and former player Matt Stajan
“We essentially have three areas that we’re bringing together to have a more holistic approach to our interactive fan experience,” says Edgar. “The shows during pregame, the two intermissions, and postgame are being live streamed to Facebook and YouTube.”
The Flames TV live streams are the main cog of their communication with fans, but the last two parts of their three-tiered approach involves their mobile app and social media platforms. On the former, the club’s strategy is to integrate opportunities for predictive gaming as well as interactive trivia to bridge the fans together on one common location during downtimes in the game. On the social side, the Flames are pumping out a wide variety of content that leverages interviews with players, like Milan Lucic, and updates with members of the organization, including Flames legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla.
For many professional and collegiate teams, incorporating sponsorship has been a challenge. In Calgary, a lot of the content being produced is tied to one of their sponsors. Other pieces of digital material are showing love to their partners, including the Budweiser Battle of Alberta Roll Call on Instagram:
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“Digital and social have helped with our promotion and marketing,” continues Edgar. “For example, we’re doing a promotion with Dodge where fans can play along to enter and win a truck. We’re doing a lot to create a database that’ll help us take our business in other directions in the future.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names of Flames’ Production Team
Edgar has spent nearly a decade of his career with the Flames. After spending a pair of seasons in Ontario with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2014 to 2016, he is now in his second stint and eighth overall season in Calgary. As a native of the province, Edgar feels at home during this peculiar season due to his familiarity with the club and the diligent work of the team that surrounds him.
“We’ve been so lucky throughout this entire pandemic to be able to diversify and get our hands on different ideas,” he concludes. “There are people doing jobs that they never thought they’d be doing a year ago, but I’m grateful that I get to work with the best crew in professional sports.”
The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers will continue the Battle of Alberta at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday, April 10 at 10 p.m. ET.