BIRD’S-EYE VIEW: The Force Was (Historically) Strong
Blog #03 – March 31, 2020
by John Peterson
Last August, as we worked to finalize our 2019-20 promotional calendar, one date stood out right away.
Star Wars Night, November 2.
Before you come up with your own conclusions as to why, let me assure you, it’s probably not the reason you’d think.
I was never a huge fan of the movies (put down the sharp objects). Don’t get me wrong, they’re good. I’ve seen (almost) all of the Star Wars films. They’re entertaining, but once you’ve seen them once, you’re all set.
Here’s why that specific promotion struck my attention. The last time I experienced planning and executing a Star Wars Night was in 2015-16, my first ECHL season when I worked for the Evansville IceMen. It was a HUGE success.
The game sells itself. Fans of the hit film series travel far and wide for anything Star Wars. Many of them aren’t even big hockey fans. Some don’t even know the rules. But they’ll show up in full force dressed in their favorite Star Wars costumes. It’s awesome.
At some point during the off-season, K-Wings Sales Associate Michael Kiel came up with an idea: let’s take this to the next level and try for a Guinness World Record for the largest lightsaber battle in history.
(Keep reading after the photo)
MORE THAN WE BARGAINED FOR
It’s safe to say everyone in our front office was excited about the opportunity. Selfishly, I was pumped up because a game that we already expected to have a sellout crowd was now a public relations gold mine.
Little did we know when we started planning, that accomplishing this feat might be more difficult than passing a bill through Congress.
To pull off this record, it would take more steps than an IKEA desk assembly, more directions than Rachel’s English Trifle recipe in the TV show Friends, and more rules than the NFL’s guidelines for cities who host the Super Bowl.
But we were all in. No turning back.
First, how many lightsabers did we order? Enough for the first 1,000 fans like most of our giveaways. That wouldn’t do. So Director of Game Operations Michael McFadden ordered enough for a sellout crowd.
Guinness World Records requires enough photo and video evidence of the record attempt to fill the National Library. So I asked photographers Kimberly Moss and John Gilroy to focus all of their resources and staff on helping with this task. Most games we needed just one photographer. We had five snapping photos at Star Wars Night.
Creative Producer Tim Hindbaugh made sure every camera was turned on and recording as soon as the doors opened until the end of the lightsaber battle, required for evidence to show how many people were actually going in and out of the arena bowl.
Our marketing team helped promote the event through our website, social media, a press release to the local media and an email. This effort was weekly from late September through game day.
K-Wings Governor and Director of Business Operations, Toni Lentini-Daniels, first promoted the record attempt at our annual press conference to the media in late September.
The sales guys, Jason Kane, Ben Ruhlman, Derek Arnold, Fletcher Meyers and Kiel, worked diligently to get the word out to the community and partners to fill the seats.
Our talented group of interns, Brenna, Enrique, Noah, Seth, T.J., and Travis contributed in a number of different areas, including helping round up enough volunteers to judge the lightsaber battle. Guinness World Records requires one judge for every 50 participants. Do the math. Wings Event Center seats just over 5,000 fans at capacity. We’d need AT LEAST 100 volunteer judges. The interns worked to secure that many through Western Michigan University fraternities, sororities and volunteer groups.
K-Wings Executive Assistant Keli Ekola provided all the necessary information for the volunteers about what they'd be responsible for, when to meet on game day, etc. She also had a spreadsheet with every volunteer listed to make sure we overprepared, just in case a few couldn't make it last minute.
Our staff met every single week leading up to November 2, specifically about preparations for this single game. We wanted to make sure every “I” was dotted and “T” was crossed.
FINALLY GAME DAY
Luckily, Star Wars Night was a rare Saturday stand-alone game. Our previous game was Tuesday morning at Wings Event Center. We didn’t play Friday night and also had a vacant Sunday. This allowed us to put all efforts into preparing and executing a highly-anticipated promo night.
Believe it or not, game day didn’t feel as hectic as many might expect. (With that being said, I can only speak for one person). I treated it like a normal game. I arrived at Wings Event Center mid-morning and went through my pregame routine: printed both teams’ game notes, the guest relations stat sheets and line charts, set up the press box, prepared my talking points and interview questions, and dropped off all the game notes packets to the press box and locker rooms.
I can’t speak on behalf of my coworkers as to the stress they felt in contrast to a normal game day, but I know there were a few more meetings than usual.
Most of the K-Wings staff gathered with over 100 volunteers at 2:30 p.m., four and a half hours before puck drop, to go over everything they could possibly need to know to properly judge the Guinness World Record attempt.
Each volunteer received a bright yellow hat and a notebook for gathering information about their assigned section during the first period of the game and record attempt. We also provided everyone some delicious Hungry Howie’s Pizza. It was the least we could do. These folks were crucial to the success of the record attempt.
Everyone had an assigned seat. They were instructed when they needed to be in position, what section of 50 participants they were responsible for, and what to look for specifically.
How many people in your section of 50 are participating? How many people are sitting down? How many people got up to go to the concessions during the intermission rather than stay for the lightsaber battle? These were all things Guinness World Records takes into account when reviewing a record attempt’s authenticity.
At the end of the meeting, all of the volunteers went into the arena bowl to their exact assigned positions to get a feel for where they would be and exactly what their section looked like.
Think we left any stone unturned? We didn’t.
Doors opened earlier than usual. We knew we had enough lightsabers for a sellout crowd, but that wasn’t the concern. How would we make sure everybody that entered through the gates got one and knew what was at stake?
We hung signs around the concourse. Earlier in the week, we shared an instructional video to social media about how the night would go, how to enter the building, how to collect their lightsaber and what they’d need to do during the entire length of the battle to meet the Guinness World Records requirements. We played that video again in the area during the first period knowing all eyes were on the 50-foot video board during a media timeout.
Everyone helped distribute the lightsabers. At least two staff members, booster club members or interns were at every entrance. All hands on deck. Fans received wristbands upon entry for the purpose of handing them off to a K-Wings representative to receive their lightsaber. This made it a fluid process, but also gave us an accurate number to present Guinness World Records about the total number of participants.
My nerves kicked in around 6:30 p.m. Warm-ups were in full swing. I always get a little nervous before a game, but this was different. You could feel the buzz in the arena. I grabbed two light sabers, one for me and one for the Wheeling Nailers broadcaster, my good friend D.J. Abisalah. He’s a team player, too.
(Keep reading after the photo)
BETTER THAN WE COULD HAVE IMAGINED
I think the first time I got the chills was right before the player introductions and National Anthem.
The lights went out.
Scanning out at the packed arena bowl, all I saw was red and blue lightsabers glowing in the dark. It looked like a concert when a band gets ready to perform a slow song and everyone holds their lighters or phones in the air, but better. The crowd roared.
I knew right then we were going to set the record.
Now it was game time. The puck hit the ice and we were underway. Back to business as usual.
Luke Sandler scored a dandy of a goal early to make it 1-0. Then Yannick Veilleux buried a wrist shot. Before we knew it, the K-Wings jumped out to a 3-0 lead. At the final media timeout of the first period, an announcement went out to the fans reminding them to remain in their seats. The official Guinness World Record attempt was minutes away.
The capacity crowd counted the clock down to zero. The buzzer echoed throughout the 46-year-old venue. Time to make history.
Rick Place, the K-Wings in-game host stepped onto the ice and prepared the crowd for the start of the battle. Three minutes and 45 seconds went up onto the video board. I sent the broadcast to a commercial break, followed by an interview to buy some extra time during the intermission to take everything in.
Ready, set, go!
I picked up my lightsaber and proceeded to participate in a three-person battle in the press box with D.J. and longtime Kalamazoo writer Pam Shebest. It was a blast. I also realized three minutes and 45 seconds actually feels like a lifetime. I probably should’ve practiced. Can someone please run an oxygen tank up to the press box?
I’ll never forget it. I think we all believed the night was a success, regardless of what happened afterward. But now we needed to compile all the evidence to submit to Guinness World Records for review.
First, we had two periods of hockey left. Wheeling made a second period push to cut Kalamazoo’s lead to 3-2, but the K-Wings charged to the finish, completing a memorable night all-around with a 7-2 win.
After the record attempt, the volunteer judges filled out their official reports. We compiled them and included hundreds, if not thousands of pictures, hours and hours of video, and Kiel submitted it all.
Following a wait that felt like ages, we found out the result November 19 in an email from a representative at Guinness World Records.
“Toni, Michael and team,
I wanted to reach out and congratulate you on your successful attempt for Largest lightsaber battle. Our records team reached out and let me know that your record was successful, and that you are officially the new record holders.”
We did it. YOU did it. 3,889 participants to be exact. We made history.
(Keep reading after the photo)
HOW DO WE TOP THAT?
I don’t know if we can, to be honest. But you better believe we’re going to try.
Every year we try to come up with new ways to keep things fun and entertaining. New theme nights. New additions to reoccurring popular events. New giveaway items.
The beauty of pro hockey is everyone has a different reason for coming to the games. Some are pure hockey fans who show up night in and night out to support their favorite team. Some use hockey as a good reason to take the family out for a night of fun. Some come for the experience, the theme nights, or the pageantry.
We realize that fact and we try to find a good mix during the planning process every summer.
What does the future hold in 2020-21? I wish I could share. I really do. But stay tuned. We have some more fun in the works.
One thing I can almost guarantee: Anyone who played a part in the planning, execution, or participation of our Guinness World Record lightsaber battle November 2, 2019 will carry that memory with them. Isn’t that what sports are all about?
Until next time, may the force be with you.
Bird’s-Eye View is a Kalamazoo Wings blog, written by the team’s Director of Public Relations/Broadcaster John Peterson twice weekly. The thoughts, opinions and behind-the-scenes stories are that of the writer alone and not a reflection of the organization as a whole. Fans are welcome to submit questions and ideas for future blog posts to email@example.com. Enjoy!