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What you need to know about COVID-19: July 31
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Nobody cheers for a coronavirus pandemic to come along. But when it did, the artist in Steve Mayer, the NHL’s chief content officer, definitely recognized it would provide an unbelievable canvas on which to work.
Mayer is the Mayor of Hub City.
He’s the producer, director, set-designer and leader of the 12-person team that arrived here two weeks ago and began building the bubble for the event that will come to a conclusion as late as Oct. 4, with the presentation of the Stanley Cup in Rogers Place.
Friday, Mayer will reveal the dozens of details involved in the building of the bubble and the plans involved in presenting and telecasting games out of Edmonton and Toronto. He will reveal the planning in place to welcome teams for their arrival here Sunday.
In advance of his detailed unveiling, Mayer took time to share with your correspondent the big-picture planning that has been going on leading to the NHL’s return to play.
“When all of this is done, I think for all of us on my event team, this will be a career achievement,” said Mayer, who produces the NHL’s outdoor games, all-star games, the NHL Draft and NHL Awards presentation.
“This is so much different than anything we’ve ever done. I think when the Stanley Cup is handed out, you are going to look over to my team and we’re all going to be exceptionally emotional.”
Staging an outdoor hockey game doesn’t have a COVID-19 factor and overriding player health and safety components.
“You have a year, typically, to put together an outdoor event. We’ve been putting this together in an incredibly short period of time. We were preparing as much as we could without knowing where we were going to be going. Doing this in Edmonton is really different than doing this in Las Vegas. For us, we couldn’t really start zoning in on, ‘What is it?’ until we were really zoning in on Edmonton.
“We’re really fortunate to be dealing with the people from the Oilers Entertainment Group. They are fantastic. Not every NHL team is set up like OEG or had the infrastructure to pull off an event like this.
“We’re really confident that we’re going to be in really good shape when these teams get here on Sunday. But it’s been like nothing we’ve ever done and we just appreciate the players will appreciate all we have to offer when the look at what we have to offer them. But to get here has been like nothing else.
“Every decision involves something we have never had to deal with before. Everything we do has to be well thought out with all the different layers and have to be executed,” he said of the challenges involving COVID-19.
“Just the testing alone is an unbelievable undertaking. To test 900 people daily and have all the results by the next morning has been an incredible challenge to organize.”
The one thing they could do before they got here was to conceptualize the presentation.
“We did work on the set design immediately because we could. It was one of the things we knew we could do.
“I’m a television guy. That’s my background. I spent years producing hundreds and hundreds of television shows. So when I knew there were going to be no fans, I immediately adopted the philosophy that lets take something for the fans that are going to watch at home and make it a special viewing experience. Lets take out the seats and put on a show — make it a television event in addition to a live sporting event,” he said. “There will be all sorts of staging effects and backdrops in the stands.”
The lack of fans creates another opportunity.
“We’ll be able to move cameras around. And Rogers Place is the ideal location. The beauty of Rogers Place to me is that they went around to all the other arenas and they picked the best ideas and built an arena that’s absolutely spectacular.
“With no fans in the stands, we can position cameras in places that are absolutely ideal. We’re going to have one camera every day that goes to a different position. We’re going to have double the amount of microphones that we’ve ever had on the ice. The sound is going to be amazing. I think it will be very compelling for our fans.”
Mayer hopes the players are pleased with what they find in Hub City away from the rink.
“Each team will have a meeting room, a film room and a team lounge. There are activities we’re setting up through the entire environment involving such things as e-game stations, golf simulators, ping pong tables, pool tables, indoor areas, outdoor areas and places to go if they just want to watch some hockey.
“We hope it won’t take them long to see that our general philosophy here is player-first. We’ve talked to the players on so many occasions. Connor McDavid was involved in the process. We wanted to understand what their interests are.”
There’s a lot of anticipation involved in Mayer’s revelation of the details. And there’s just as much anticipation involving what the player reviews will be like when they settle in following their arrival Sunday.
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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