In the past you’ve read posts on this site titled as pipe dreams. They were a string of ideas I had envisioned for various parts of the city that featured a wide range of ideas which varied in terms of feasibility.
I hope that this post serves as a starting point for a number of different ideas that I’m pitching for the Sabres. In fact, I’ve ran some similar posts in recent weeks and months. So it’s not as if this is a foreign concept to this space.
Perhaps one of these ideas will strike a chord with a member of the Sabres front office (unlikely) or even just drum up conversation amongst the fan base that could gain momentum down the road. I enjoy coming up with various ideas and floating them for conversation. Especially when it’s something that could benefit the city or, in this case the Sabres.
The Sabres currently hold an annual event called the Corporate Challenge that is a three-on-three tournament that features alumni headlining teams sponsored by local businesses. The cost per team is $3500 and the players receive a jersey along with a number of other amenities that accompany the tournament. This includes food and drink throughout the day and at the culmination of the event. It’s a terrific even and I’d like to see the Sabres build on the success and momentum of the Corporate Challenge by instituting a fantasy camp.
It’s something that’s done to varying degrees across the league by different organizations. For example. Wayne Greztky and Mario Lemieux each run their own versions while the Kings are Sharks both openly advertise their team’s respective camps.
The Gretzky Camp in particular is quite cost prohibitive as it comes with a $12,000 price tag. As is the case with most fantasy camps, the price is at a premium due to the fringe benefits that accompany going through a week’s worth of hockey with your favorite team or legend. While I understand that a certain premium would need to be placed on such an event, I’m not sure a Sabres version would need to be so astronomically priced.
The ingredients for a fantasy camp are pretty basic. A week’s worth of hockey that culminates in some sort of tournament or championship game between the participants. The inclusion of alumni as team coaches or captains sweetens the pot for the participants as they get to skate with the players they’ve only ever seen on TV. I assume that the more alums who are included the higher the price climbs as the teams likely need to compensate each alumni member who is participating.
What I’d like to see the Sabres do doesn’t differ much from any other fantasy camp that’s out there. A three or four day camp that would include practice time followed by a day or two worth of games culminating in a camp championship. It would be neat to include a current roster player to run the bench along with one or two alumni members per team. The current player and alums would run the practices prior to the games with the alumni joining the team for the games at the end of the camp.
Fielding four teams seems like an ideal cap and would serve as a simple way to divide them up between, white and blue Sabres jerseys and white and red Amerks jerseys. A case could be made at expanding to six teams in order to include more players each year, but four teams works on so many levels. One reason to keep the teams to a low number is to keep the overhead costs associated with hosting hundreds of hockey playing superfans for a handful of days. It would minimize the number of alumni and current players required to participate while also cutting down on associated overhead costs related to apparel, food, etc.
Ultimately, I’d like to see no more than 18 players on a team after accounting for the goaltender and alumni players. A three line, three pairing set up (15 players) plus the two alums and netminder wouldn’t suck away too much ice time while still allowing for an ample amount of paid participants. Categorizing the teams could be as simple as I stated above: white and blue Sabres, white and red Amerks. It would also be cool to go the retro route and have team represented by different jerseys from Sabres history. That way the original royal, red and black, slugs and current uniforms would all be donned by different teams. Just no Turd Jerseys.
The exact structure is obviously flexible. One day of practice, two days of games. Two days each of practice and games. It’s all deadly. The key is finding the right schedule that maximizes ice time and makes each person feel like they got the proper return on their investment.
Based on everything I’ve read, it’s common practice for each participant to get their own, personalized authentic game jersey in these camps. I’d assume a practice jersey would also be included with food and drink throughout the camp. Other simple additions would be a commemorative jersey patch that could be placed on the game jersey, a custom nameplate for each guy’s locker stall and maybe official team helmet stickers if each guy wishes to add those to complete the uniform.
What I’d shy away from is providing each participant with a team issued helmet and gloves. While it looks nice in photos it also serves to increase the cost. Most camps that I researched appear to include some sort of customized equipment (typically gloves) with the entry fee. I feel like it’s frivolous especially when the Sabres store already sells gloves well below what you’d find them at retail for. If each player is getting a practice jersey, game jersey, socks, a patch and a cool nameplate I think that will probably suffice in terms of mementos for the event. There’s no need to toss in extraneous stuff like helmets and gloves.
One other feature that I’d keep separate is lodging. Partnering with a local hotel – like the Marriot HarborCenter – would provide options while not tacking on an additional required expense to the cost of the camp. It also stands to reason that there are so many hockey players in Buffalo who would be jumping at this opportunity that the number of out of town participants would be minimal.
It seems highly unlikely that any team would offer this type of experience for $500 a person, but I also feel that is enough to cover the jerseys for each player and food for their time in the arena. I assume that something closer to $1000 is a more appropriate cost just based on everything that would be associated with this event. However, a lower cost would certainly attract that many more participants.
I won’t pretend to know exactly how much the Sabres would be on the hook for in order to host this event, so I can’t pretend like I know what an appropriate cost might be. It just seems like charging $2500 or more is a bit high.