A perspective from Brian Smith, Senior Account Executive and other hockey fanatics at Advantage – a sponsorship and brand experience agency.
On December 4, 2018 the NHL approved a Seattle expansion team to begin play in the 2021 – 2022 season. The currently unnamed team will become the 32nd NHL franchise and bring professional hockey back to Seattle for the first time since 1924. What the Seattle hockey ownership group does leading up to October 2021 will define the success of the brand. As sports marketing and brand development experts, we here at Advantage have some ideas that Seattle should consider to help build the team’s brand before they even step blades on the ice for game one.
Create an Identity
There is much time, consideration and testing that goes into a professional sports team’s name, logo and jersey. It’s important to choose a name that represents the city proudly and in a positive light. The Seattle ownership group registered 13 trademarks for potential names this past winter, ranging from names revolving around the Pacific Northwest landscape (Seattle Evergreens) to names about their rich marine population (Seattle Sockeyes). To build excitement, perhaps the team should get the fans involved in this process and hold a logo and jersey design contest. How would it work? Fans can take those 13 names and make a logo/jersey combination that they believe embody their city. The winning entrant who correctly predicts the team name and creates the best jersey design will have their creation as a third jersey for select home games during their first season. Giving fans a voice helps drives affinity that is so important in connecting with the community. And driving earned media from the promotion helps too!
Once the team name, logo and jersey design are in place, next comes the go-to-market messaging. For many new potential fans this will be the first time they will hear from the organization, so the team will need to make it count. Seattle is known for having passionate sports fans after all. Have you ever seen the Seattle Sounders fans “March to the Match”? It’s unlike anything you’ll see in American professional sports. The hockey team will need to match that passion and hence the organization will need to build an integrated communications program that will speak directly to the Seattle sports fan and position the new team in a meaningful, differentiated way.
Fuel the Fan Engagement
Sure the diehard hockey fan in the greater Seattle area is going to be supporting this team from day one, but how do we get the casual sports fan that didn’t grow up watching hockey to latch on? There are many paths to fueling fan engagement across the marketing mix – social, digital, events, promotions, partnerships and so on. Each engagement should ladder up to the team positioning while driving local Seattle sports fans to feel they are part of this new team. for instance, the new Seattle team can go on a mobile event tour around the state of Washington with hands-on event engagements (e.g. shot contests), while driving benefits to prospective fans (e.g. giving away team merchandise) and ultimately yielding return on objectives for the team, such as driving consumer information to garner email addresses for their season ticket sales funnel. A hockey trivia game could also be a great addition to the mobile tour activation or as another layer to fan engagement. Most hockey fans don’t know this, but the 1917 Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. Challenging contestants to answer Seattle and general hockey questions can spur interest in the organization across all ages. Encouraging attendees to post about the mobile tour on social media to win additional prizes would be another way to get the word out. Beyond being out on-the-road, events can also take place in the home arena. Before the first game even takes place, perhaps the team should create fan appreciation night to give fans up close access to players, mascots and the entire organization.
In this day and age, social media drives so much of the conversation for sports teams. Having a strong and engaging social presence is key to grabbing the attention of new and existing fans. When the Las Vegas Golden Knights were first announced, they received an influx of new fans because of how entertaining their social media accounts were. We found ourselves following them just to see what they would say next. They were funny, witty, and took the time to interact with their fans. Having a unique voice coupled with fun, social contests is a path to success, but requires organizations to have the right creative and socially-minded resources to engage and enlarge their social community.
Another important aspect to consider is sponsorship. How should Seattle go about choosing and acquiring the right sponsors? Connecting the team with brands that are headquartered in the Seattle area is one route the team will likely take in establishing themselves as a pillar in the greater Seattle community. Companies such as Starbucks and Microsoft have a strong presence in the Seattle community, allowing them to utilize the hockey sponsorship for consumer and employee engagement. Beyond companies headquartered in the greater Seattle area, the team should look for prospective sponsors who align with the team’s core values and positioning, while being able to extend the message of the team through co-marketing in Washington state.
Leverage the Community
The best way to create a fan for life is to impact them while they’re young. Creating alliances with schools, camps, and youth hockey organizations has the potential to create multi-generational interest that’ll get the kids and parents wanting to see the team play. Something as simple as having the mascot spend the day at a youth hockey camp can grab the fandom of those kids for life. Once the team name is selected, consider having players or coaches pop into local schools/camps and introducing themselves to the Seattle youth. Part of the mobile tour could be to stop at schools all across Washington to make sure the suburban and rural areas within the team’s marketing territory is accounted for.
Another thing to consider is attaching to charities that align with the ethos of the organization. Consider a partnership with “A Better Seattle”. Founded by head coach Pete Carroll, “A Better Seattle” is an initiative to reduce and prevent youth and gang violence in the greater Seattle area. Or perhaps (or in addition) team up with a known Washington celebrity, such as Chris Pratt, and get involved with the Seattle Children’s Hospital. Consider a donation to one of these charities every time the team wins or scores a certain number of goals. There is so much you can do to give back to your community and show the fans you care about the place they call home.