Only in Detroit can you throw an object on the ice during a hockey game and not be escorted from the building, in this case Joe Louis Arena. However the new en vogue toss, controlled and buzz-worthy, is the Teddy Bear toss for charity. Minor and junior hockey teams from Topeka to Portland brought in the sponsored between period and post-game event this past week, where fans came in with their own Teddy’s of all shapes and sizes, and filled the ice with bears. Saturday’s Teddy Bear Toss was 11,862 stuffed animals in sports-crazy Portland, where the Winterhawks donated all the animals to a local children’s charity. The Topeka toss was several hundred, but also got some nice local buzz. Now the “record” of 25,921 is held by the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, with outposts like Hershey of the AHL doing their own 13,000 plus bears as well. 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 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 leagues? 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.
So congrats Winterhawks 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.