Reigning In Los Angeles
Luc Robitaille and his staff are working hard to make the Kings champions off the ice as well
The Black Parade was 45 years in the making, a lifetime for most of the 250,000 fans that lined the streets of downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the Kings’ Stanley Cup championship. It ran past L.A. LIVE, which served an apt description of the entire city, before snaking its way inside STAPLES Center, where 18,000 lucky diehards roared when Darryl Sutter pumped his fist, Jonathan Quick cradled the Conn Smythe Trophy, and Dustin Brown hoisted the Cup.
At day’s end, everyone went their separate ways. The jubilant throng made its way back to various precincts of the Southland, while players took their victory lap global, going from Jay Leno’s couch in Burbank to Anze Kopitar’s garage in Slovenia - and nearly everywhere in between.
After almost half-a-century of anticipation, it was over. But was it really? The Kings believe their victory procession was a beginning, not an ending.
“Our goal,” Kings President, Business Operations Luc Robitaille said, “is to win the Stanley Cup again.”
The confetti was still being swept off Figueroa Street when the Kings’ front office executives rolled up the sleeves of their champagne-soaked shirts and set about making sure these are not just Kings-for-a-day. They are convinced reaching hockey’s summit can, and should, happen more than once in a lifetime.
“It’s very important for us to show that we are in it for the long haul,” Robitaille said. “Everything we do is for the long-term.”
Robitaille was born Feb. 17, 1966 in Montreal and 16 months later, the NHL gave birth to the Kings. The two came of age together and for much of the past half-century they have been joined at the hip. That’s why Robitaille might be the only man in history to derive more joy from hoisting the Cup in a crisp, well-tailored dark suit than in a billowy, sweat-soaked, (Red Wings) jersey.
“The Kings are my team,” Robitaille said. “They will always be my team and they will always be a part of me.”
How many in the quarter-of-a-million fans that were drawn to downtown Los Angeles June 14 have uttered those exact same words? Oh, only all of them. When the Cup made its way into Robitaille’s hands – the ones that put 668 pucks into NHL nets - it was also landing in the mitts of every longtime Kings fan by proxy.
“Lifting the Cup as a King was one of the greatest feelings I have ever had,” Robitaille said, fully aware that he held the dreams of a city in his hands. “It was important to be a part of it as a King. It took me back to 1986, when I first joined the Kings and I knew I wanted to be a part of it when they won the Stanley Cup.”
Robitaille has been a Kings player or administrator for 20 of his 46 years. He had time enough to see this day coming and had a pretty good idea of what it would be like.
“I kept telling our young players what it would be like if we ever won the Cup,” Robitaille said. “I don’t think they believed me because they were blown away by the response from our fans. It was fun to look around the building and see the season seat holders that had been there for 40 years or more.”
Kings Chief Operating Officer Kelly Cheeseman has developed relationships with many longtime season seat holders and fans during his tenure with the organization. Cheeseman has seen their loyalty in good times and bad. Still, Cheeseman was overwhelmed by the reaction when the Kings won the Cup.
“The most common word to describe it was surreal,” Cheeseman said. “Words couldn’t describe it.”
From their new position atop the hockey world, the Kings rule over a growing kingdom. When you blitz through the postseason with a 16-4 record, you are going to pick up a few constituents along the way. Not surprisingly, every game at STAPLES Center this season will be a sellout. With the arena filled to capacity, the Kings are using both old and new media to keep their virtual bandwagon growing.
The Kings official mobile app, since launching in January of 2012 became, in short, very popular. During the Final, various videos inside the newly launched “Kings Vision Raw” were consumed at a high rate. Online, the Kings established a franchise record for page views on June 12, the day after winning the Stanley Cup. During the postseason run, more than an estimated 300,000 people visited the L.A. LIVE campus.
On TV, the Cup-clinching Game 6 earned a Final-record rating, while also posting a record rating in the Los Angeles market.
The Kings are hoping the numbers will be even better this season.
“We had record TV ratings during the playoffs,” Cheeseman said. “This year’s ratings have yet to be seen but we want to get ratings like the Lakers. We are not there yet, but we hope to double our ratings this year.”
If you are among the many who believe something essential was missing without longtime play-by-play voice Bob Miller’s presence behind a microphone during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the organization has a solution. A coffee table book commemorating the Kings’ triumph is being offered with a DVD that includes Miller’s call, along with the analysis of Jim Fox.
While some observers believe a late start to this season might come at a difficult time for the Kings, the defending Stanley Cup champs see things differently. The Kings believe taking the ice with a title to defend gives their season instant credibility.
The Cup triumph brought an uptick in popularity that isn’t limited to the team’s fan base. The Los Angeles business community is also buying into the Kings, and the organization continues to reach out a helping hand to the community that has always been behind it.
“All of our key business areas are up,” Cheeseman said. “Our corporate partners shared in our Stanley Cup win and want to be a part of (our defense of the Cup).”
Kings fans won’t have to look very far this season to see an example of the Kings increased presence in the business community. A recent deal struck between the team and McDonald’s makes the burger behemoth a high-profile presenting sponsor of the Kings for the next two seasons.
The popular hamburger chain, which has long been a STAPLES Center staple, will have a presence on Kings practice gear and at press conferences. McDonald’s will also help fans remember the magic of last spring’s Cup run by underwriting a commemorative mini banner giveaway on opening night.
Sponsorship increased by15 percent, while in the community the Kings raised more than $55,000 during last year’s playoffs through their Beard-A-Thon event. That came after the Kings Care Foundation raised more than $1 million during the regular season, and last week the franchise announced a $1 million pledge back to our community in conjunction with its players.
Cheeseman takes great pride in the commitment of Kings’ fans and believes those diehards should feel equally proud of their team, both on the ice and in the boardroom.
“We have the greatest fans in sports,” Cheeseman said. “After the lockout, we don’t take them for granted. We want to earn and keep their trust. Our mission is to become the best franchise in all of sports, both on and off the ice.”
The Kings are halfway home. It took 45 years, but the Kings are officially the NHL’s best franchise on the ice. Now, the Kings are doing everything they can to make sure the organization won’t be closing in on its centennial season before they win their second Stanley Cup.
Just 17 days after being crowned, the team signed Quick to a 10-year contract extension that will kick in after this season, guaranteeing the Conn Smythe Trophy winner will wear a crown on his jersey until 2024. How often he wears one on his head remains to be seen, but the Kings are determined to win again.
“We don’t have a tricky slogan or slick ad campaign,” Cheeseman said. “Everything we are talking about revolves around winning the Stanley Cup again. Dean (Lombardi) and his team did an amazing job keeping the nucleus of this team together.”
Quick’s signing was symbolic in that it represented the Kings’ commitment to winning. But after claiming the Stanley Cup, the organization has chucked symbolism for results.
“Yes, we want to be a marquee team,” Robitaille said. “But the way you become a marquee team is by winning. We have signed our core players long-term and we are going to do whatever we can to win the Stanley Cup again.”
While planning celebratory events like last summer’s parade and this season’s STAPLES Center banner-raising, Robitaille said the team kept one thing in mind.
“LA Kings fans waited 45 years for this,” Robitaille said. “The players paid a very high price to win the Stanley Cup. Our fans and players both deserve something very respectful. Whenever we do something (to celebrate the Stanley Cup), we want to do it the way we feel is right for our fans and players.”
The 18,858 lucky enough to be at STAPLES Center on June 11, 2012 will pass memories of the night down for generations. Cheeseman will be among those telling tales.
“Walking out on the ice and looking up in the stands and seeing season ticket holders I have known for years crying was very emotional,” Cheeseman said. “The emotion was so strong because there was so much pent up energy. You are almost numb when it happens.”
That sensation was felt all across Southern California as the Kings and their destiny finally intersected that June night in Los Angeles.
“The Kings,” NBC’s Mike Emrick, informed us in the magic, waning moments of Game 6, “are the Kings!”
An ensuing summer of celebration followed and, in a way, was dedicated to making sure Emrick’s coronation was only the beginning of the reign.
“We want to celebrate winning the Stanley Cup,” Cheeseman said. “We will raise our first banner, and then we want to win it again.”
Emrick’s tagline was memorable, but ultimately, the Kings believe they are the only ones with the power to put their destiny into words, and after a busy off-season, their message is clear.
Long live the Kings.