Not many people receive a standing ovation when walking into a Buffalo Wild Wings. But that is exactly what happened to Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen when he showed up to the fourth annual Cannonfest yesterday.
“I want to tell the fans we appreciate their support and everyone on the team is excited about the fan base and their enthusiasm,” said Kekalainen. “I think it’s important to come here, show your face and tell fans face to face that you appreciate them.”
Greg May, owner of the Buffalo Wild Wings Grandview, Hilliard and Bethel Road locations, as well as a Cannonfest co-creator himself, estimated a crowd of more than 250 Blue Jackets fans at the Bethel Road BW’s to welcome Kekalainen.
The crowd definitely had an impact.
“I was impressed,” said Kekalainen. “I didn’t expect quite that big of a crowd in the summer on a Sunday. It was overwhelmingly full of people and such an enthusiastic crowd. It says a lot about the fan base.”
Cannonfest is a grass roots community event initially created by Blue Jackets fans who were excited to get the hockey season kicked off. It’s grown into a large-scale event that now drives conversation and excitement about the team and includes involvement from Blue Jackets staffers. It’s filled with videos, photos and activities created by, and for, Blue Jackets fans. Cannonfest co-creator Matt Wagner said that’s what makes the event so special.
“The fan community promotes it and creates the content,” Wagner said. “I love the fact that we had a lot of fans submit videos and pictures. This time the fans owned the content as much as the organizers.”
This year’s Cannonfest included season recap videos—as well as a touching video tribute to former CBJ radio broadcaster George Matthews, a Blue Jackets memorabilia display, video game tournaments, and a social-media based fan video competition.
Columbus resident and long-time Jackets fan John Kemp explained what motivated him to create what was the contest-winning video.
“Cannonfest is about anticipation. We’re all fans and we can all get excited for what will happen in the coming year together,” Kemp said. “I wanted an opportunity to explain why I’m such a passionate fan.”
In addition to contests and videos, the fan base made an impact in other ways. Fundraising campaigns were led by the fan groups Jacket Backers, and Arch City Army. Raffles and promotions brought in funds for three local charities: the Sedona Grace Foundation, The Ryan Salmons Foundation, and the Blue Jackets Foundation.
Cannonfest raised a total of $1,500 for the Blue Jackets Foundation, exceeding last year’s totals.
“We always enjoy when fans come together – they are some of the most involved in the hockey community and for both of us to help central Ohio together is awesome,” said Blue Jackets Foundation Manager Alison Pegg.
Another Cannonfest beneficiary was the Sedona Grace Foundation, a charity founded by two Blue Jackets fans. The foundation collects pet food and treats for local families in need by providing supplies to central Ohio food pantries. Jackets fans were encouraged to bring dog food and treats in exchange for food discounts during Cannonfest.
“We collected over 200 pounds in dog food and treats and just over one hundred dollars in donations,” says Sedona Founder, Dave Cottone. “It was a great turnout – more than we could have hoped for.”
“It’s amazing. Cannonfest has become part of the fan community,” he said. “It’s an honor and exciting to see how this has grown.”
Kekalainen says the impression from today is something he’ll keep with him and that the team is aware of the fans’ excitement.
“I didn’t know what to expect but I certainly didn’t expect this. Hockey season really isn’t that far away. The guys saw how the fans rallied behind the team last year,” he said. “Everybody’s feeling it and the guys are working extremely hard to get ready for next season. We’re ready for it.”
Blue Jackets tickets for the 2013-14 season are currently available for purchase. Information on all ticketing options can be obtained by calling (800) NHL‐COLS or by visiting BlueJackets.com.