Cougars winger Tyler Mrkonjic wasn’t even born the last time the WHL team set a 50/50 record of $12,000; still respectable by today’s standards. The forward from St. Albert, Alberta was certainly present on March 7th (he scored a goal in the 2nd period) as the team dramatically surpassed the old record by an additional $55,000.
The stunning number can be attributed to a simple gesture from one individual as well as the collective power of the Prince George Cougars community who rallied around a good cause: A cause personal to no one as much as it was to Tyler Mrkonjic and his father.
Nine years ago, Tyler’s mother sadly lost her battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as ALS. The Mrkonjic family paid tribute to her by creating the Shelly L. Mrkonjic ALS Research Fund; the benefiting charity for the Cougars’ March 7th game against the Victoria Royals. In a very generous move, Cougars’ President Greg Pocock of EDGEPRO Sports and Entertainment personally paid for $25,000 in advance 50/50 tickets to help kick-start the fundraising. The club then proceeded to give away all the tickets “free of charge to all adults with valid tickets attending [the March 7th] game”.
The Cougars then promoted the good cause – and the $25,000 in free tickets – and word spread like wildfire.
In a press release announcing the big plans, Cougars Vice President of Business Andy Beesley correctly predicted a fundraising powder keg:
“I will not be surprised if the pot increases right off the charts, as fans will want to purchase more tickets to double or triple their chances of winning, as well as knowing that they are supporting Tyler Mrkonjic and his family by contributing to his mother’s fund.”
With the 50/50 starting at $25,000 before the puck even dropped, the pent up demand was staggering. The draw proved so popular with ticket-buying fans – who braved long lines for the nearly sold-out game at CN Centre – that the team had to put the brakes on it by the end of the first period instead of the usual end of the second period.
With the Cougars’ electronic 50/50 system Pointstreak 5050 going full tilt printing 85,000 tickets and with great awareness of the need for transparency, both the raffle’s operators and Pointstreak 5050 support staff were diligent in making sure all tickets were in before the draw took place. With more printers, kiosks and ticket sellers, the historic draw could have been even bigger. Commented Mr. Beesley:
“We could have easily sold $120,000.”
“The motivation behind this initiative was entirely charitable” said Greg Pocock, head of EDGEPRO Sports and Entertainment, “We established two prime objectives for the event. The first was to honor a commitment I made to Tyler in August to have a night to raise funds and awareness for the fight against ALS. The second was to find a unique way to give back to our season ticket holders and other fans. We decided that this would achieve both objectives, and that we might be able to leverage the spirit of the event to make it an evening that people would never forget”.
The buzz created by the mega-raffle surpassed everyone’s expectations, leading to not just media attention, but inquiries from pro sports clubs looking to learn about the Cougars’ secret sauce.
“We expected it to be huge” Mr. Pocock continues, “But we had no idea how huge it would eventually become. We generated incredible social media and conventional media coverage across the league and internationally. We’ve received inquiries from NHL and other professional sports teams to see how we did it, and what we would do to make it better. The event drove ticket sales, and we had our 3rd largest attendance of the season. Ultimately, we exceeded everything we hoped to achieve and more, and we learned a great deal about our staff, volunteers and fans. We are planning another event, and expect to raise the bar even higher sometime soon”.