Records are made to be broken in sport, and sometimes they literally are a lot of fun that come tumbling down. Case in point last week when the Edmonton Oil Kings set a new standard for a hockey phenomenon, the Teddy Bear Toss. From The Maritimes to California, a hockey holiday rite of charity has returned in full force this year.
Now it used to be only in Detroit could you throw an object on the ice during a hockey game and not be escorted from the building, in this case the former Joe Louis Arena. However the Teddy Bear toss for charity has taken the place of octopi in Motown.
For those who don’t know, fans come in to arenas with their own Teddy’s of all shapes and sizes, and fill the ice with bears. The Oil Kings haul of 15,000 bears, while they dressed in teddy bear themed jersies, passed the Hershey Bears 12,000 set last year.
How have the numbers evolved? Some records included just under 34,500 in 2018 by the Bears, and the previous mark of 28,815 thrown by 19,289 fans of the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen in 2015. The Bear Toss is not new to hockey; the Kamloops Blazers of the Canadian Hockey League claim to have originated the tradition in 1993-94, and it has gone on across minor, now college and junior league hockey clubs for years.
The advent of digital and social media his significantly amped up the exposure, and the competition of the bear toss this year, with more challenges probably coming from clubs large and small in the coming months. Is there risk from projectiles of any kind being hurled around an arena? For sure, but clubs have seen nothing but positives in the promo in recent years.
So what else can be done with bear tosses? Lots. For one, the whole event is sponsorable either in a giveaway of customized bears to toss, or in a redemption program for a sponsor like a Build-a-Bear in years to come. There is a “hidden bear” opportunity, where players select tossed bears and exchange them with fans whose names are tied to their tosses for tickets and signed items. There is the opportunity for a give back, where players can even toss their own bears back into the crowd, ala a teeshirt toss. The promo also does not have to be just at period or game end, there could be scores of back and forth promos during a game.
Want to factor in some technology into the bear toss? How about a mini camera on a bear that makes it to the ice, with a little viral video showing the life of the bear from purchase to when he or she makes it onto the ice and is retrieved by a player. The possibilities of micro cameras tied to crowd sourcing can be a nice sponsorable add-on as well.
Could the bear toss make it to the larger and more controlled arenas of the NHL or other elite minor league sports? The possibilities for liability probably go up, but set at the right level, with the right amount of bears, or maybe other stuffed animals, the promotion has great potential for both a charity raise or for a sponsor, not to mention the viral aspect that every club craves. The toss as it currently exists is quaint in that the bears are all sizes and colors and make for an amazing panorama of colors on the ice. Could a little uniformity slow it down or diminish the tradition? Maybe but that’s certainly low risk.
The team said the bears are being donated to more than 30 local charities including schools, churches, lions clubs, the American Cancer Society, Children’s Miracle Network and Milton Hershey School.
So congrats teams for amping up the promo. Many families can never figure out what to do with the dust collecting dolls over time anyway, so coming up with a very unique way to clean out a closet and do good in the community is always a good thing.