The show hasn’t only been on the ice during the Carolina Hurricanes’ playoff run, but you have to get there early to see it.
At the start of the playoffs the Hurricanes’ staff started putting towels on each seat inside PNC Arena, a take-home collectors item for hockey fans.
For the second home game of the first round, they realized they could have a little bit more fun with the towels. They spelled ‘canes’ in all lower case, a play on words against their first-round opponent, the Washington Capitals, who had adopted the phrase ‘ALL CAPS.’
The promotions staff posted the picture on social media, got good feedback and realized they were onto something. So far this postseason the ‘Canes have spelled out “canes,” “WOOO!” “JERKS” and “NOISE.” The word for Tuesday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins: “ECF.”
The towels, designed by Ashley Knappenberger for each game, first made an appearance in the home opener this season to support the new goal song ‘Raise Up’ by rapper Petey Pablo. One line in the hook encourages fans to take their shirts off and spin it around their head like a helicopter. PNC didn’t want a building full of shirtless fans and decided towels were the best alternative.
Plenty of teams put towels in the stands, especially during the playoffs, to enhance the fan experience, in fact the ‘Canes have handed them out during previous playoff runs. Jonathan Boggs, the team’s manager of promotions and fan development, became the Hurricanes’ wordsmith .
“I think all of us had some suggestions in terms of what those phrases could be,” Hurricanes vice president Mike Forman said.
The ”JERKS” spelling was in conjunction with the night the towels had “bunch of jerks” printed on them in response to Don Cherry, the loudmouth commentator for “Hockey Night in Canada” who called the team that insult earlier this season for their Storm Surge postgame celebrations.
The entire process, Forman said, takes about two hours on the morning of the game. More than 50 staff members volunteer their time to work 45-minute shifts setting up the towels in the stands and Boggs uses a spreadsheet to determine which towels are coming off the seats for spelling purposes.
“The process of pulling the letters only takes about 20 minutes once it’s mapped out on an Excel,” Boggs wrote in an email. “We then make a few tweaks once seeing the layout in person.”
Some challenges are sections in the stands that have a different number of seats. For example, the center ice section is smaller in terms of number of seats across the row, so when looking at the stands from a distance it’s important to know everything fits.
During the postseason run, Forman said they’ve had to make small changes to the towels to make sure a word looks correct. Once the ‘e’ in noise didn’t extend all the way, or when they wrote the lower case ‘canes’ the Capitals called them out because they thought the ‘a’ looked like a ‘q.’
The fans who are in seats without towels don’t go home empty handed. Their towels are placed in the cup holders, ready to be waved when they get to their seats.
The words are only preserved in photos; the moment the first fan gets to their seat and picks up a towel, the entire phrase or word is destroyed. The first arrivals wipe out two hours of work by the staff, which is fine..
“We know that some of the things we are doing will only be seen by a few,” Forman said. “But if it was impactful to anyone and people enjoyed that photo then it was worth it.”