Development Camp for the Red Rockers
These last few weeks it’s fair to say Caps fans have been wetting their pants, metaphorically we hope, over every trade, every signing, every rumor that has anything at all to do with what the Red lines will look like this new season. Starting today, we can set that aside and start freaking out over development camp. Joy.
Judging from the games and Caps events we’ve been to (crashed), the Rockers – now in their fourth season – have endeared themselves to the fans. OK, maybe a little more with a certain set of guys than others (as puzzling as this is to us), but watching little kids at Verizon decked out in red get all excited at the chance of meeting a real Rocker - well, we get why Mike Wurman, director of game entertainment and TV production for the Capitals, likes to call the squad “our ambassadors.”
We decided to
crash attend some of the two-day-long process this weekend – not so much to try out (no-one asked) but to meet some of the hopefuls, and see just what the Rockers audition process is all about. Short answer: it’s likely harder than you imagined, but not for the reasons you might guess.
“The common mistake is to call them a cheer-leading squad, but that’s not the case,” says Wurman, one of five judges who will ultimately make the call as to who will get to sport the red this season. “It’s important our Red Rockers are very personable, and that’s the real purpose of the auditions this weekend. Can they handle the job with grace and a smile? We’re trying to find the girls that are going to be the best ambassadors. They might come in with some expectations, but by the end of today they’ll have a completely different idea.”
We met up with Mike at the Washington Sports Club in Columbia Heights where Rocker-wannabes were put through a two-part evaluation. Day 1 was test day – complete with dance moves, mock t-shirt throws, improvised on-ice games, and a few pop-quizzes, such as ‘A fan comes up and says Where’s my t-shirt?! I didn’t get a t-shirt! How do you respond?’ (Note: we would laugh and tell ‘em to go take it up with Slapshot, but that’s just another reason we’re not Rocker-ready.)
Day 2 was interviews – first with the judging panel – comprised of Wurman, Tyler Hines, game entertainment coordinator, Joe du Priest, VP of Caps marketing, Kim Frank, director of fan promotion and Emme Porter, longtime Rocker and now their coordinator – and later with Elliot “In The Morning”Segal, Emmy winner, Caps fan extraordinaire and surprisingly all-around good guy. Meaning he didn’t make us sound like jack-asses on his show.
Although there’s only a few general qualifications to try out (you must be 18, you must have graduated high school), the ideal Rocker is a person of many talents.
“We’re constantly trying to refine the roll of the Red Rockers. They’re an interactive squad. A lot come in saying ‘I’m a dancer’ or ‘I was a cheerleader’, but that’s not what they do. They do do some dancing around the bowl during games, and we’re always asking how do fans react to it, but that’s just the start.
We want to get them out there; we want even more exposure during the games without going over the line. So the first season, they were all in a row at 104. Last year we decided to start moving them all around the arena, three or four at a time. So now they’re not in one spot; they’re moving around, in different sight lines, and that’s seemed to work. The worst thing, however, is if no-one is paying attention.”
Wurman knows from where he speaks. Formerly of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (booo!) he notes that DC – unlike those “cities” – is what he calls a tweener market, a mix of new and traditional fans. No BS markets, basically. Still, Wurman’s team made a decision years ago never to “dumb it down” at Verizon – and that goes for the Rockers as well.
Unlike teams such as the Rangers who have a squad of “ice-girls” in skimpy skirts who scrape the surface, the Capitals have their own professional ice team, mixed with local youth-league hockey players. “The Rockers know hockey,” says Wurman. “They know all the trades and movement, and that’s good because we know fans are going to want to schmooze them up and talk.” So don’t ever call a Red Rocker an “ice-girl”…or, it seems, even a girl.
“We had several guys audition this year, just like last year,” says Wurman. “That’s something we’re trying to find a magic combination to get out there that this isn’t just a female-only squad – we’re not trying to do that. At this point, we realize there’s an association that the Rockers are all women. That’s something else we’d like to figure out and see how we can get gentlemen involved. But we’re not just going to take a guy just because a guy showed up. There’s got to be something interesting about you to be a Rocker. Whatever it is, you’ve got to be interesting and engage with the fans.”
Out of the nearly 100 who auditioned Saturday, only about 30 were called back Sunday – none of them guys. But there was a pleasant surprise: on Sunday, there was a familiar guy out in front helping coordinate the entire process – chatting up the hopefuls, keeping everyone calm and just making it work. “Hi, I’m David” he said, confirming our suspicions that he was the former Rocker David – so far the only guy to make the squad. Turns out he’s now working part-time with the Capitals.
He’s not the only one. Emme Porter is a Rocker veteran who now coordinates the entire squad. “She’s really great with the fans, she seems to know everybody,” notes Wurman. “She’s also a professional figure skater, so she and her husband are leading classes for Rockers who want to get better on the ice – that’s where she really shines.”
It’s somehow heartening to see that while players like Eric the Fehr get traded here and there, the Rockers try and look out for their own.
Which is not to say, however, than anyone is ever guaranteed a spot. Much like a Caps player (uh, or actually not so much) Wurman says you have to prove your worth as a Red Rocker every season, and no Rocker is assured to make the cut.
And in contrast to their counter-parts in the NFL, Red Rockers seem to be well-compensated, receiving pay for every game they work and their other appearances. Red Rockers: attractive and smart.
So who will make this year’s squad? There was 15 on the squad last year, and Wurman says anywhere between 12 and 18 could make the cut this year. Whoever gets one of the slots, we’re convinced we’ll be seeing a lot of them in the coming year. “It’s not just the games, it’s all the appearances – and that’s what we want,” Wurman tells us between prospective Rocker interviews. “It’s always great to get a player to appear somewhere, but they’ve got lots of commitments. So the Caps can have a presence at a lot of functions through the Rockers – very similar to Slapshot.”
Oh, one more thing Wurman let slip. “I’ve got an exclusive for you on this year’s Caps opening video,” he said. Pause. “We’ve almost decided on the music.”