For the first time, the American Hockey League has decided to hold its all-star game in a city that doesn't have a team.
Atlantic City won the bid to host the AHL's All-Star Classic on Jan. 29 and 30 in a one-year deal announced Thursday.
During the past few years, city officials have made phone calls, sent out emails and visited companies around the country to promote Atlantic City as a destination resort for sporting events.
But to attract the city's latest event, city officials didn't need to go anywhere.
Jeffrey Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, said a league official called in June to see if there was interest in hosting the league's all-star celebration.
The AHL is considered the highest minor-league tier in hockey, with a large number of its players moving on to the NHL. The league is full of stars in the making.
"I like to think when I started the sports initiative six to seven years ago, it's starting to bear fruit," Vasser said. "We're making an impact and people see a great place to have these events. They think about us now, which they didn't think about us before."
The event was made possible through a partnership with the ACCVA, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, Caesars Entertainment and the league.
The idea to move the All-Star Classic to Atlantic City grew out of the city hosting AHL games in the past. Last year, Boardwalk Hall hosted five games with the New Jersey Devils' minor league teams - four with the AHL's Albany Devils and one with the lower-level ECHL's Trenton Devils.
The five games averaged 3,498 fans, with the first game between Albany and the Adirondack Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers' AHL affiliate, drawing the most people with 5,134 in an arena that holds 10,820 for hockey.
"It actually was partly a result of doing the Devils games last year and the AHL's experience they had here," said Boardwalk Hall General Manager Greg Tesone. "And part us with this initiative to go out and find new and different events. It all kind of came together."
Boardwalk Hall used to be home to a minor-league hockey team. The Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the ECHL played there from 2001-2005. The team had success on the ice, winning a title in 2003, but low attendance forced it to relocate to Stockton, Calif.
The venue has hosted a wide range of sporting events in the past decade, including the Atlantic 10 men's basketball championship, the ECAC men's hockey championship, the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo and the high school state wrestling championships.
All of those events bring tourists to Atlantic City, Vasser said.
"At the end of the day, my goal is to create room nights for Atlantic City," Vasser said. "The mission is to bring in visitors. To get an event, something that someone needs to stay over for a two-day event is ideal for me. That's why I go after things like the AHL hockey, A-10 or ECAC. It brings in visitors from key feeder markets who want to stay over. That's the appeal for me."
In addition, since the AHL All-Star Classic is held in the middle of winter, Caesars Entertainment's Eastern Division President Don Marrandino saw the perfect opportunity to join in a partnership.
Based on attendance from years past - the event drew 10,736 in Hershey, Pa., last year - Marrandino expects a solid turnout in Atlantic City.
"Most importantly, it's able to fill rooms in January when we most need it to happen," Marrandino said. "It goes along with my strategy that we have to do big events often in Atlantic City with sports, entertainment, boxing, all that kind of stuff."
The AHL took a chance this year by going with a nonleague city. But this is an opportunity for its fans to enjoy a city that is more of a destination than any of the previous host cities with gaming, restaurants, nightclubs and shopping outlets.
Chris Nikolis, the AHL's executive vice president, marketing and business development, said he has gotten mixed reactions from fans, but that is usually the case with any all-star site selection as fans hoped to have their city in the mix.
However, he's confident that the AHL will be a good show for anyone who attends.
"We put on great events for players. Ninety percent of our players end up playing in the National Hockey League," Nikolis said. "It's a community event. We have hall of fame inductions. There is an awful lot of things going on. It's a great show for all the folks."
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