When the National Hockey League’s Steve Mayer talks about the possibilities of merging All-Star Weekend with the City of Tampa’s annual Gasparilla pirate festival later this month, his face lights up in a smile, his hands wildly gesticulate and the possibilities start flowing out at a machine-gun pace.
Mayer is the league’s executive vice president and chief content officer and is responsible for creating a show, nay an experience, over the three-day All-Star Weekend in Tampa from January 26-28 that captivates traditional hockey fans while capturing new ones among the hundreds of thousands of people in Tampa for Gasparilla that might not otherwise think twice about the sport.
But when you try to lock down Mayer into divulging some of the particulars of the potential marriage of those two events, he can be as elusive as Brayden Point stickhandling his way through opposing players in a 3-on-3 overtime.
Just know, there are plenty of surprises in store for the NHL All-Stars and their involvement in Gasparilla.
You’ll have to attend to find out just what those surprises are.
“I think we’ve come up with a couple, or more than a couple, of instances where you’re going to see the NHL presence in the Gasparilla world and I think vice versa, just naturally the Gasparilla folks will attend our events, be a part of our events,” Mayer said while running the local media gauntlet to promote All-Star Weekend. “We’ll be a part of the invasion. We’ll be a part of the key ceremony, part of the parade, things that are really special in their world, and we just are thankful that they opened up their arms to anything that we’ve suggested and have been so easy and so cooperative to work with and vice versa. We just felt like with so many people downtown and how special this event is in Tampa, we want to say, ‘Come and enjoy what we have to offer,’ as well. I do think you’ll see it, especially on Saturday, where the two worlds collide but integrate in a really cool way.”
One secret has already been divulged: Former NHL great and Tampa Bay Lightning all-timer Vincent Lecavalier will serve as Grand Marshal for the Gasparilla Pirate Fest as well as the Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates.
“There are so many aspects of what (the Gasparilla organizers) are doing and what we’re doing that will blend together and meld,” Mayer said. “And I think that’s cool. Maybe this is the start of a trend. Maybe we only go to All-Stars where there’s a huge event going on because I think it’s going to be pretty fun at the end of the day.”
All-Star Weekend will commence on Friday, January 26, a day prior to Gasparilla on Friday, with a free concert at Curtis Hixon Park headlined by Fitz and the Tantrums.
“There will be other bands that we’ll announce in a couple of days,” Mayer said. “But we’ll have All-Stars there. So, that Friday night event becomes sort of our kickoff event where the players will be there, they’ll be interviewed, they’ll intro bands, fireworks, projection on the buildings, just a real cool party atmosphere and Fitz will be the headline act, free to the public. Absolutely come with families, it’s free to get in. We can put 20,000 to 25,000 people in that various area, in the inner area about 10,000. We expect a huge crowd. And there’s food and drink. It’s going to be a giant party but a great way to kick off the entire weekend.”
The NHL will transform AMALIE Arena’s Silver Parking Lot and neighboring Cotanchobee Park into the NHL All-Star PreGame, a three-day, free outdoor hockey fan festival starting Friday and continuing through the conclusion of Sunday’s All-Star Game. The PreGame is free to the public and offers fans of all ages a plethora of hockey interactive games, attractions and music; special appearances by current and former NHL All-Stars; a mini version of the NHL All-Star Game feature 27 NHL mascots; and NHL memorabilia and trophy displays, including the iconic Stanley Cup.
“In Clearwater, we’re doing a beach bash. We’re setting up four rinks on the beach so we invite youth hockey players to come and participate,” Mayer added. “It’s the experience of playing the game, which is fun in the outdoors, why not? And it’s the experience of just taking in and getting an autograph of an All-Star or an alumni or taking a picture with the Stanley Cup. Those are the memories that people will take with them forever, and that’s the kind of experience we hope people take with them when we leave Tampa, they’ll remember it forever.”
Saturday, Flo Rida will perform at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition at AMALIE Arena and again at a private League party later that night at the Tampa Convention Center.
Of course, the main event itself, the NHL All-Star Game, will drop the puck Sunday, January 28 at AMALIE Arena.
“This is a great environment for this big event just because of the experience of everyone in this city,” Mayer said. “So when you put these on, to have the cooperation that we have here, it makes everything so much easier, so much better. Everybody thinks big here. Everybody just wants to be better than last year’s All-Star or the year before, and so that attitude just lends itself to preparation that makes it work for us.