MANKATO — A pre-game event today, which began last year as a welcome for MSU men's hockey coach Mike Hastings, is back as a way to market downtown businesses and college hockey.
Hockey Night, which again includes food, music and family activities, is seen as a way to bolster the brand of downtown Mankato while improving the game experience for fans, said Eric Harriman, coordinator of the City Center Partnership. The partnership is supported roughly equally by the city and businesses.
The event, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. in front of the Intergovernmental Center, is organized by the partnership and Minnesota State University. Its lead sponsor is Snell Motors, and is also aided by the vendors selling food and drinks.
Those vendors will be giving away $500 in food to the two winners of the “Game Day Experience Package,” which also includes two season tickets. They are also giving away two more season tickets.
Assistant Athletic Director Nathan Christensen called it “a pep rally to get the season started.”
In a related promotional event, MSU will be giving away 1,000 tickets at the Mankato Marathon expo earlier in the day. It’s another cross-promotional tie-in; marathon organizers hope runners will remember the experience, and MSU hopes the visitors will come back for another game.
Christensen said the university is putting more emphasis lately on expanding their brand, including the purchase of billboard space and collaborations with hockey associations in the region.
New this year will be a $100 prize to the best rider of a mechanical bull. The winner will be chosen based on applause, not length of time on the bull, Harriman said. Both the riding challenge and the drawings will take place between 6 and 7 p.m. The game begins at 7:07 p.m.
The event may be repeated this year, though it will soon become too cold to reliably hold outdoor events.
Harriman said nationwide sports teams tend to create promotional events around their game days. And he said Mankato doesn’t need to replicate those huge events.
“But we can do littler things.”