Sunday 23 June 2024

Storm Warning! RAT Rain May be in the Forecast

The Florida rat story has a fascinating sponsorship chapter!  

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Tonight is the night! The Stanley Cup will be awarded to whichever team perseveres. The question is! Will the ice surface be covered with orange and blue Oil, or will there be a Rain of Rats?

If Mathew Tkachuk and the Florida Panthers win, it will be rats! If Conner McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers win, it will be rabid fans who have flown 4,120 km on an 8-hour flight to spill onto the ice dressed in colorful orange and blue costumes the minute the final whistle blows. Either way, the cup finals have been the stuff sports legends.  

Rat Legend

As the Florida Panthers emerged from the NHL's Eastern Conference to meet the Western champion Edmonton Oilers in the 2024 Stanley Cup final, the story of the rat storm of 1996 bubbled to the surface.

Do you remember the story? A legend grew out of a single, slightly disgusting act involving a rat! Disgusting, that is, unless you are a fan of rat extermination.

A Passion for Hockey

It was only natural that I shared the story about rats with my grandsons, Alex and Jace. We share a passion for hockey and hockey history. At some point, I had told them about the famous rat attack.

Both live in Halifax while I live in Calgary. We watch games together while texting comments and reactions back and forth as each game unfolds. This year they went silent every third period when the Oilers and Panthers played in Edmonton. I found it annoying until their grandmother reminded me there is a 3-hour time difference and they had gone to bed.

Alex remembered the story and asked me to retell it. I wrote it down and sent it to him. I also shared it on my various social media channels. It generated a lot of attention.  

Sponsorship Brilliance

And why, you ask, am I sharing it on my Brandit with Robyn blog? Part of the story includes a brilliant sponsorship chapter about a rat extermination company that recognized a golden opportunity.

Let's just say the stars were aligned. At the end of this post, I describe the classic sponsorship that is still paying off today!

What You Need to Know: Sponsorship Basics

Background to the Rat

The Florida Panthers were established in 1993, a year after the Tampa Bay Lightning. The thinking was that thousands of snowbirds from Canada and the northern United States would flock to the games filling the arenas to overflowing.

That was a false hope; the first years were grim on the ice and in the stands. Things got better as both teams improved their talent.

By 1996, the Panthers surprised the hockey world by making the playoffs. The team's first coach, the legendary Roger Neilson, taught the young players the fundamentals of the game.

Doug McClean followed Roger. Doug was a motivator who continued to build on Neilson's foundation.

A Rat Hole

Unfortunately, the Cats played in the antiquated Miami Arena, which was—excuse the term—a rat hole! It was a dump of an arena that held about 14,700 fans. Not that sellouts were a problem!

Scott Mellanby had played for the Philadelphia Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers. He was also the son of  
Hockey Night in Canada producer Ralph Mellanby, which made him hockey royalty. Sort of. The Panthers selected him during the expansion draft.

A Legend is Born

The first game of the 1995-1996 season was against the Calgary Flames. On that fateful day, Scott walked into the Panther dressing room only to see an unlucky rat scurry across the floor.

He instinctively grabbed his stick and swatted the rat. His aim was perfect, and the unfortunate rodent was catapulted across the room to hit the wall with a thud (squish?). It was killed instantly.

While some teammates were grossed out, others saw the potential. They recognized the symbolism of swotting down team after team of teams of pesky rats about to invade the arena during the coming season.

They felt Mellanby could be on to something! Some players asked Scott Tinkler, the Florida equipment manager who had disposed of the deceased rat if a taxidermist could retrieve and stuff the body.

I’m sure they had visions of using the rat statue as a motivator or perhaps as a team trophy. You can read the story on

A Rat Trick

That night, Mellanby scored two goals using the same weapon (stick) he had killed the rat with. Panther goalie John Vanbiesbrouck quipped that he had scored a "Rat Trick."

The idea caught on with Panther fans. When news of the dressing room encounter spread, Panther fans brought hundreds of plastic rats to toss on the ice every time the Panthers scored. The act became a ritual, and the volume increased as the Panthers progressed through the season.

At this point, I need to explain the rat danger. Ancient hockey arenas like the Maple Leaf Gardens, the Boston Garden, and the Montreal Forum had a common characteristic. The seats were squeezed together with each about 2/3 of the size of a seat in a modern Ice Palace.

The Miami Arena was no different. There was another similarity. The old arenas had raked seating that was much steeper than in today's arenas. You felt like you were looking straight down on the ice surface.

Rat Projectiles

The second part of the story is the composition of the rats. They were plastic, not foam and each was as hard as a frozen puck. They were true to life with rubber rat tails and whiskers which could take out an eye.

Imagine reach near supersonic speeds when thrown from the top row in the arena. It was as if they had been shot to the ice by David and his slingshot. Most bounced when they hit the ice.  

By the time the playoffs arrived, rat throwing was part of the Panther fans DNA. In fact, displaying true entrepreneurial spirit, the Panthers began selling them outside the arena and between periods.

As the Panthers progressed through each playoff round, the volume of rats increased. It became so dangerous that players on both teams would race for their respective benches every time the Panthers scored.

Each team member, that is, except the goalies. They were abandoned to survive the rat storm anyway they could. Most curled into a ball and took refuge in the safety of their net. 

Rat Whine

Early in the season the New Jersey Devils experienced the rain of rats. Stanley Cup and Con Smythe-winning goalie Richard Brodeur was  vocal about the distraction the rats caused.

The Devils lodged a formal complaint with the NHL League office. To their dismay, they were ignored by officials who realized the phenomenon was a public relations gift. News and sports media around the world reported the intriguing story. The rat-infested ice surface made compelling photos and videos.

As far as Panther fans were concerned, the outcome was predictable. They threw even more rats.

Stand Up To the Rats

The Florida Panthers met the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 final. The rats rained. However, the intimidating effect on the opposing team changed.  

Stanley Cup-winning goalie Patrick Roy refused to cower in his crease after Panther goals. He menacingly stood leaning on his net as he watched the rats raining down around him to litter the ice.   

His act of rebellion took on heroic symbolism and courage. His teammates were moved and rallied. 

Patrick and the Avalanche had the last laugh. They won the series 4 games to 0 to win the team's first cup. The rats had lost their mythical powers.

Sponsorship Genius

Now for the sponsorship chapter of the story. Going into the playoffs, Panther Marketing people had a moment of P.R. brilliance.

They approached ORKIN Pest Exterminators about sponsoring the cleanup.

Staff dressed in ORKIN logoed shirts and logo-bearing plastic hard hats swarmed onto the ice to deal with the rat infection. That's right, plastic hard hats.

After each rat storm Orkin workers quickly cleared the ice so the game could resume.

In an earlier blog called Sponsorship Basics, What You Need to Know, I explain how unique sponsorship opportunities can be pure gold. But the full value isn’t always in the base sponsorship. It’s in how you promote it to target audiences.

Sponsor Benefits

For ORKIN, this was a bonanza. First, in each game ORKIN received exposure before 14,500 people in the arena during each game. Second, photos and video of staff corralling fallen rats were sent around the world accompanying news stories.

The brand exposure was extended to many million of hockey fans watching on television or listening to radio broadcasts.

The speed with which the workers cleared the ice was part of the messaging. When you have a rat infestation in your basement, you want your exterminator to will respond immediately to quickly deal with the problem.

Who ya gonna call? That's right, ORKIN.

Even the hard hats became a novelty item among fans. The subtle message was that ORKIN people were fully dressed and ready to go to work.

Finally, the ORKIN part of the story is still available online. The sponsorship investment is still producing value.

The rat lore has lived on through its mascot, Victor E. Ratt. Tonight, the Stanley Cup will be awarded to the victor. The question is! Will the ice surface be covered with the orange and blue Oil of rabid fans, or will there be a rain of rats? Will Victor be celebrating?

Wrapping it Up

Has this post helped you?  Do you have stories from your experience with sponsorship? I'd love to hear from you. Please share in the comment section below. 



Twitter: @RobynTbraley

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