It took a while for local officials to realize that “New England’s Rising Star” wasn’t working as a promotional slogan for Hartford and the search for a new catch phrase is underway. To other cities in New England, most notably Providence and Manchester, New Hampshire, which have actually made major strides into the 21st century, the “rising star” slogan was treated more like a punchline in reference to Hartford.
With a short sighted approach to promoting itself the city did little to earn the moniker. Arts and educational venues are admirable pursuits for any city, but in Providence and Manchester at least equal value was put on their sports teams, the crowds they draw to a city and an understanding of the return for promoting teams and sports events.
In Hartford the business community was less than enthusiastic in involving itself in co promotions with the women’s Big East basketball tournament, which should be one of the most sizzling annual attractions in New England.
What we get in Hartford is visitors from out of state who come in for an evening of sports entertainment, stay for dinner and head back to their cars with a warm glow only to find a gift from the traffic control commission on their windshields and vowing never to come back. My own round of calls to find out who was responsible led to a lot of buck passing. No one in Hartford knew anything, which may be the problem. The Connecticut Whale has recieved little support from the state or city, not that they did a lot to help themselves, but to have the governor’s assistance to the local AHL franchise consist of saying he’s met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and was given no indication Hartford could ever be an NHL city again only served to throw cold water on any enthusiasm Howard Baldwin was trying to build. Still, Baldwin put too much emphasis on an NHL future in his marketing of the AHL team, which deserves the support of the community in it’s own right.
It’s a product worth selling and, who knows, the coming labor dispute in the NHL is likely to lead to expansion in that league which is going to lead to a need for more viable markets. A market that refuses to help itself deserves no consideration. Baldwin’s made some major mistakes and piled up a lot of unpaid debt but it had to be a hard pill to swallow when he was forced to remove his son as the C-O-O of Whalersports and Entertainment and he probably feels like Howard Jr. took a lot of hard critisism in the process, but that move, with the much more affable Mark Willand moving into the post, should open some wiggle room for negotiations with corporate and business sponsors, state and city officials and, primarily with AEG over a more favorable lease with the XL Center, perhaps with some pressure from the state, which will determine in a year if AEG keeps the XL Center contract.
There are products to sell in Hartford but it takes a community wide team effort to sell them and so far everyone’s been working from different pages. I have a suggestion for a slogan, “Hartford, you’ll be glad you came”. I have another suggestion. Say it, mean it, prove it. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.