It doesn’t take a hockey genius to recognize the Minnesota Wild is trending in the wrong direction. They’ve lost four of their last five games, are struggling to find their scoring touch, and their playoff chances are disappearing faster than Kirill Kaprizov leaving All-Star weekend. Fans are getting restless, and rightfully so. It’s been seven years since the Wild have won a playoff series.
If the best regular season team in Wild history couldn’t get past the first round last year, how can a team spiraling into the trade deadline have any success? More importantly, what can the Wild do to keep fans invested while salary cap issues prevent them from bringing in dynamic players (and winning in the playoffs)? The answer could mean trying some pretty unconventional things, starting by taking a page out of the Philadelphia Flyers’ playbook.
Last week, with the Flyers essentially eliminated from the playoffs, the team told season ticket holders the team’s three April home games are free. The ticket price will become credited toward their renewal price for next season. It’s hard to determine if this is a clever stunt to keep fans coming back or a way to stop notoriously violent Philly fans from tearing apart the Wells Fargo Center after missing the playoffs for a third straight season. The Wild could follow suit. It’s much easier to support a losing team if it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to attend, but why stop at ticket prices?
The Wild could lower prices at the concession stand and the team store. Why not let the fans determine the cost of their in-arena purchases with a giant prize wheel? It would be much easier to spend $200 on a new Jake Middleton jersey if it were an inch away from being completely free.
A potential discount could keep a fan happy on the concourse, but how could the Wild shift the focus back to the ice?
Offer live prop bets. Sports betting is becoming increasingly popular across the country, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s legal in Minnesota. The team could eventually offer live prop bets to keep fans locked into the action. Imagine sitting in the Xcel Energy Center watching the Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets dump and chase their way through two scoreless periods. The energy in the arena plummets as people lose focus on the game and start daydreaming about the stage placement for the Nickelback concert next summer. How boring. Now, imagine the potential of winning two hundred bucks because a player breaks his stick. Prop bets will keep the fans engaged and give them the cash for that new Middleton jersey.
Speaking of gambling, use it to set the lineup. The coaching staff has been making questionable decisions all season. Calen Addison has been healthy scratched multiple times, Marco Rossi can’t get out of Iowa, and even alternate captain Matt Dumba had to watch a few games from the press box. The Dumba scratches had a noticeable effect on team chemistry. The Wild haven’t won in regulation since he sat out.
Dean Evason may as well throw everyone’s jersey number on a ping-pong ball and let a bingo spinner decide positions. How fun would it be to watch Jared Spurgeon take a face-off against Nathan MacKinnon or see Ryan Reaves in goalie pads? Like when a baseball game gets out of hand, they put the backup shortstop on the pitcher’s mound. Throw Marc-Andre Fleury out on the power play, feed him one-timers on the faceoff dot, and suddenly all of hockey Twitter is talking about the Wild. If the team is going to lose, they might as well do it with some pizazz. If the Wild want to shake things up to bring fans closer to the game, why not do it literally?
Put the fans on the ice when the game goes into a shootout. The novelty of the shootout has worn off. They were exciting when the league introduced them in 2005 but have become significantly less appealing. It’s time to reinvigorate the shootout by allowing fans to line the edges of the offensive zone like it’s the 18th green at the Masters. While we’re bringing fans closer to the game, give them more access to the coaches. After a shootout win, set up a Dean Evason punching booth. Fans can share the thrill of an overtime victory by lining up outside the locker room while Evason makes his way through the hallway smashing his fist into their chests.
These ideas are ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense to have fans on the ice, force players to play out of position, or have fans spin a wheel while trying to buy a hot dog. However, the Wild do need to do something moving forward. The State of Hockey is growing increasingly agitated, and if they turn on the Wild, it will take something drastic to get them back; winning a d*mn playoff series.
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