CEDAR RAPIDS – Welcome to the show.
It’s a band called Saliva that sings a song with a chorus of those words. Yes, there really is a band called Saliva.
The lights go out at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, the spotlight shines on dancing cheerleaders at one end of the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena and “Ladies And Gentlemen” is blasted over a state-of-the-art sound system. Prior game action is spliced together with the official video for the song and shown on one of four large screens, two on each end of the ice.
Fans ring cowbells in beat with “Ladies And Gentlemen,” a weird combination of heavy metal and cowboy. You watch other hockey/music combined videos before the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders finally hit the ice to a semi-truck horn and the cry of “HERE COME YOUR CEDAR RAPPPPPIIIIIDDDDDSSSSS RoughRiders!!” from public-address announcer Evan Hrabak.
There’s a reason opening faceoff for every game always is a good 15 minutes after the listed starting time of 7:05 p.m. The RoughRiders want you in your seat so you don’t miss all this.
Welcome to the show.
“That’s exactly right,” said RoughRiders CEO Jeff Jauch. “That was one of our first videos we came out with, and it’s really what describes a night with us. It’s a show, not only when the hockey isn’t going on, but when the kids are playing. It’s a show, it’s entertainment, it’s got to be something different than what was here before.”
This is different, no question about that. It’s the fourth season Jauch and Tony Sdao have owned the RoughRiders, and they have drastically changed the atmosphere at what is affectionately known as “The Stable.”
RoughRiders head coach/general manager Mark Carlson also has a stake in the franchise, though it’s believed to be nominal. He obviously takes care of everything on-ice related.
“We recognized that early on we could do the same thing (as prior owners) if we wanted, but we realized we needed to do something different,” Jauch said. “That was the idea, that’s why we made such a big capital investment into the arena. It has worked out well.”
The RoughRiders painted the entire arena green and black (the team’s colors), with mug-shot photos and short biographies of every past player along most of the concourse walls. Life-size photos of current players take up most of the rest of the concourse wall space.
Ownership ponied up for video screens and improved sound, adding plasma televisions to each suite at the arena. The original idea was to create a sports-bar feel, though that has changed a tad.
“What we’re hearing now is that it’s kind of like going to a movie theatre and a hockey game at the same time,” Jauch said. “It evolves. Eventually you find out what works and what doesn’t work, and it evolves into what it needs to be.”
The RoughRiders hired Metro Studios of Cedar Rapids for all of its video production needs, to run the team’s website and Facebook page and to help with marketing and advertising. You might notice Metro’s huge TV trailer in front of the Ice Arena.
That’s the epicenter of the entire game-night experience. Metro Studios owner Al Schmidt and his daughter, Amber, run “The Show” from there.
“We have five cameras total,” Amber Schmidt said. “Two are operated by cameramen, one is robotic and controlled inside the trailer, one is in the sin bin (penalty box) and the other is located directly above one of the goals. We also have Adam Kokontis, who does all the audio. He has never missed a game.”
The Schmidts produce a 17-page script that maps out exactly what will be going on (off the ice) and when. There are things such as promos, graphics, replays, air-guitar contests, the Panchero’s “Burrito Toss” and the Chicken Dance.
There’s always the Chicken Dance. Players even wish folks happy birthday via pre-recorded video.
In short, there is always something going on off the ice when there’s nothing on it.
Jaymz Larson is your game “host,” if you will, sharing the microphone with Hrabak. Metro also is responsible for making sure each home game is available live on the team and league’s website, via a company called FastHockey.
“We get a lot of good compliments on what we do,” Al Schmidt said. “Other USHL teams have come in to look at our trailer and at what we do every night.”
“We talked to Metro, talked to Daktronics, a bunch of video suppliers,” Jauch said. “What we realized early on was that you can have all this great equipment, but if you don’t have content, that doesn’t mean a damn thing. Their proposal was the most attractive to us, both from a cost standpoint and putting on a show. Plus they do it for the Kernels (baseball club), so this was just a natural fit.”
Jauch said his club has found it is attracting more families to games, which was somewhat of a surprise. Friday nights are big family nights, he said, while Saturdays are “date night,” with more 20 and 30-somethings.
That might mean a few tweaks eventually to scripts, though there is one thing for sure. “The Show” will go on.
“It’s a fun atmosphere,” Jauch said. “Kids love it, it’s obvious kids love it. That’s what we’ve kind of moved into.”
“Welcome to the show is a perfect way to describe RoughRiders' hockey games,” Amber Schmidt said. “We not only have fantastic hockey to watch, we also have four video screens to show fans different camera angles, replays and (other) entertainment throughout the whole game. Fans are shown on the big screens, and there’s music to dance to. We have pregame shows that are a little different each night, with videos and lighting effects. It’s pretty cool.”