|Inspection tour: Quebec Major Junior Hockey League president Gilles Courteau, left, Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch and Western Hockey League president Ron Robison check out the ballroom at the Hilton hotel yesterday during their Memorial Cup site visit to London. (Morris Lamont, London Free Press)
Oh how the Memorial Cup has changed. For longtime followers of the Canadian junior hockey championship, they will remember how the road to the Memorial Cup was really like a Stanley Cup tour.
Teams would play series in their own league until they won. Then they would play teams from the other leagues, not in a tournament but in best-of-seven series. The final was a best-of-seven affair between two cities, all the games usually in one city.
It generated interest in the cities participating but that was about all. There was no massive media coverage, little television coverage and the dollars associated with the event meant little for the city hosting the final series and even less for the leagues involved in the event.
When the Memorial Cup tournament arrives in London in May, Londoners will see something far different. It's been a number of years since the three leagues changed the event to a round-robin tournament format. It was then expanded to include the host team.
Run properly, the event is a high-energy, very visible, entertaining 10 days, which does a great deal not only for junior hockey and the host team, but more importantly the host city.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League president Gilles Courteau, OHL commissioner David Branch and Western Hockey League president Ron Robison were in town yesterday on a three-hour site inspection tour.
We'll get to the hockey later.
Some junior hockey cities like Ottawa, Vancouver, Halifax and Quebec City are fortunate. They have other attractions that attract tourists. Those are destination cities, cities that would benefit by hosting a Memorial Cup, but don't need a Memorial Cup to attract tourist dollars.
London falls into a different category.
While some tourists may make the city a destination, often people from outside this city need a reason to come to London. That's especially true of tourists from outside the province.
That's why events of this kind, especially when they wind up paying for themselves, as this one will, are so important. People don't come to London because of a new and improved Storybook Gardens or a splash pad. That won't cut it. But a major event will. Get those people here, then sell the city.
Since the London Knights began the process of bringing the Memorial Cup here, it's brought nothing but much-needed publicity to this city. Now that the city has won the bid, it's vital that no half-measures be taken because the tournament will be a 10-day infomercial for London. Besides the regular television coverage of the games, there'll always be TV spots talking about the city itself.
Then there's the people who come here. Word of mouth is as valuable as television time. If this city puts on a good show, those who visit will spread the word. All the top junior and professional hockey people make an appearance at the Memorial Cup, the same people who make decisions about players, future events and where they'll be held.
A Memorial Cup today and maybe a world junior championship down the road, a National Hockey League training camp -- if the NHL ever comes back-- and who knows what else.
These folks like to come back to places that provide good times and good events.
The Memorial Cup will be bring dollars, how many is always open to debate. The flow-through dollar theory, the one that says a dollar spent means another $7 in additional money, is probably not the most accurate measure. But if you attract thousands of visitors, fans and hockey officials, they will drop significant coin in hotel, restaurants and the occasional shopping bender. Of that there is no argument.
Off the ice, it's all about exposure.
On the ice, it's all about possibilities.
There was a time when young players, their agents and parents would have second thoughts about having their kid play in London. With a new arena and a good team that no longer is a problem.
When you toss in the exposure a Memorial Cup tournament will give the city and the Knights, London becomes one of the first places a player wants to play.
The Memorial Cup tournament is long on benefits and most of them are not financial.