Every year around this time, Don Renzulli gets to act like a National Hockey League general manager.
The only difference is that Renzulli, the NHL’s Senior Vice President of Events, is not scouting amateur hockey talent all over North America. Instead, he’s surveying hotels, convention centers, meeting areas and other facilities that figure to be part of the 2013 NHL® All-Star Celebration that is coming to Columbus next January.
A veteran of major sporting event planning, he owns a wealth of experience in the field. He and his team were in Columbus this week to have a preliminary look at possible venues for next year’s All-Star weekend events, and get a “lay of the land” before making tough decisions leading up to what promises to be one of the most exciting sports weekend’s the Ohio capital city has ever seen.
“We’re really trying to get a feel for the community and all the venues around town,” Renzulli told BlueJackets.com. “We spent a lot of time here at the arena just kind of looking around.
“Then we’ll start to plan out over the next few months where all the different events are going to happen and what hotels we’re going to use, also where the Fan Fair is going to be. Then, we’ll start building the schedule off that.”
Renzulli has been with the NHL since 2007. He spent the previous 14 years working in the National Football League, including 12 years at the League’s New York office and two years with the Cleveland Browns. He’s helped plan Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, Winter Classics and just about every other major NFL or NHL event. The common theme throughout, he said, is the importance of the events to the host city.
His goal is to plan and execute an event that not only showcases the city of Columbus, but also makes for a convenient and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
“I think you want to come in and put your best foot forward no matter where you are,” Renzulli said. “Every city is a little bit different. When you look at Ottawa this year, the arena was further from the downtown area and Columbus doesn’t have that. Ottawa had a canal through the middle of downtown where everybody could skate.
“They had something a little different than Columbus has, but here you have proximity. When you go into each city, they are all different but you try to build off what’s there.”
One significant aspect of hosting an NHL® All-Star Celebration is the length of the event, Renzulli said. Compared to a Winter Classic - which is a two-day commitment (and growing with the 2013 event in Detroit and Ann Arbor) - All-Star festivities take place over several days.
Because the All-Star weekend is typically a four-day schedule, it allows the host city to offer a multitude of events to its fans and visitors.
“You can program it out (over the week),” Renzulli said. “Winter Classics have been mostly a one-day event, and this year in Detroit and Ann Arbor will be a little bit different, but typically they’ve been one or two day events. I think when you come into All-Star weekend, it’s really a four-day event. You start on Thursday and you’re going to program it out all the way through Sunday and the game.”
Representatives from the Greater Columbus Sports Commission joined NHL officials in their tour of the city throughout the week. With site selection such an important part of the process, Renzulli said the commission’s presence is substantial.
They already have one idea in mind. Renzulli told BlueJackets.com the All-Star Weekend Fan Fair will likely be held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. As a rookie visitor to Columbus, he’s looking forward to gathering more ideas and solidifying the remaining pieces to the puzzle.
“This is my first time into Columbus,” he said. “So it’s great to have a good understanding of what they have to offer and what’s been done in the past. It’s very important to have them working with us.”
And as far as Columbus’ ability to host an All-Star Game, Renzulli said the thought has never crossed his mind that Ohio’s capital city would be anything other than a fantastic host. The Blue Jackets hosted what is considered one of the League’s most successful Entry Drafts in 2007. He said the 2013 NHL® All-Star Celebration figures to be very spectator-friendly, citing the Arena District and surrounding hotels as a key asset.
“I don’t think that there’s any doubt Columbus can handle it,” Renzulli said. “The proximity of everything down here is great (in the Arena District), and you are going to be able to walk to most things. There are only a few hotels on the outskirts that we’ll be dealing with, but I think once people get here they’re going to have a very good time.
“They’ll be able to walk and not take buses like they’ve had to in the past. I think Columbus has a lot to offer.”