OPPORTUNITIES FOR A NEW ERA IN HARTFORD HOCKEY
After a half-decade of turmoil and indifference, pro hockey in Hartford has an opportunity to thrive under the new leadership of Global Spectrum. Below is an overview of the state of pro hockey in Hartford and proven strategies to maximize ticket and sponsorship sales while re-positioning Hartford as a "The Heartbeat of Hockey"
1. Re-branding the CT Whale to Hartford Wolf Pack (or Hartford Rangers)
The potential re-branding of the CT Whale to the Hartford Wolf Pack presents significant challenges
Hartford is an atypical hockey market as it had major league hockey for 22 years (1975-1997). Moreover, there remains a strong and growing affinity for the Whalers brand. Hence, Hartford should be viewed as a hybrid major/minor hockey market and both constituencies need to be served.
The market is fractured between hard-core AHL (Wolf Pack) followers and NHL nostalgists (Whalers). It is important to note that the AHL followers are proven AHL buyers and will support any brand on ice. The Whalers fans attend games for the "Whalers experience" and are fickle and prone to defection. This "Whalers" group also needs to know that their support of the AHL brand could somehow result in the return of the NHL -- or at least a renaissance of hockey in Hartford at some distant point.
Finally, the Whalers group is "generational" and a new group of fans now buy into the Whale/Whaler "experience."
"Hi Mark. Do you have any idea what's going to happen to the Whale's name? My six-year-old son loves the Whalers and the Whale. He loves the green and blue and one of his favorite things in the world is hearing "Brass Bonanza" play at the XL Center. He draws both logos all the time and his favorite color is of course green...he just loves everything to do with the Whalers and the Whale. It makes me extremely sad to think I may have to tell him the Whale is no more. Sure it will be the same team, but branding is everything, and my son will be heartbroken if his Whale is taken away. Do you have any idea?"
2. Strategies for Retaining and Growing "Whalers/Whale" Fan Base for AHL Games
* Communication: The answer to the question, "Why is the name being changed is crucial?" In my opinion the answer should imply that the myriad of legal troubles associated with WSE and their association with the CT Whale made this change inevitable. This is the truth and people can relate to it.
All fan factions need to feel included in this era of Hartford hockey. All messaging should underscore the themes of Hartford hockey, inclusion, heritage, growth, etc.
Next, there needs to be a sincere and specific declaration of how the Whale/Whaler/Wolf Pack heritage will be promoted -- and even expanded -- employing strategies such as these:
* Brass Bonanza is retained as the Hartford Hockey song. The song trancends the Whalers and is the unofficial song of Hartford hockey.
* "Pucky the Whale" mascot continues along with Wolf Pack mascot. Pucky remains on the scene (but never put a Wolf Pack jersey on him). Pucky is the most identifiable mascot character in CT sports and needs to be part of the AHL brand. (BTW -- the Sonor mascot costume is a wreck and needs to be replaced.)
* Keep Frank Russo out front in the early days of the franchise as he has the local connection and credibility fans will be seeking.
* Keep high-performing and fan-friendly ticket reps like Dave Romeiko and Kevin Stone (plus Frank Berrian) very visible and make sure they are enthusiastic advocates for the new brand.
* Put the fun back in Hartford hockey -- trumpet the return of promotions, active atrium, etc. that were missing this season.
* Create opportunities to ultilize local Whalers Alumni to serve as "ambassadors."
* Adopt the numerous Hartford Hockey Heritage Initiatives.(below)
* Using the valuable Hartford AHL assets, maximize the Wolf Pack Business Connection and become true partners with our sponsors.
3. Hartford -- The Hockey Capitol of Connecticut
To be relevant in the media and to expand its moderate fan base, The AHL team in Hartford and the XL Center should be positioned as the hub of hockey in CT.
Hartford can once again be the epicenter of hockey in the state of CT. It is critical for the Wolf Pack to co-op/co-brand with other hockey organizations to make the XL Center a hub for hockey at all levels. Specifically:
4. Managing the Affiliation with New York Rangers
"Whaler Nation" remains hostile towards the Rangers for reasons based in an inferiority complex. Being subservient to a former NHL rival is tough for some fans to accept. More importantly, MSG chased Whalers nostalgia out of the XL Center (with the late exception of Whalers banner night.) during its reign here.
However, it is time to embrace the Rangers affiliation and promote it to a new generation of Hartford hockey fans.
While Hartford has many naysayers, the Rangers have stuck with the city for 17 years. The coaches live and have raised families in greater Hartford. The Rangers are a proud Original Six franchise that offers stability, proximity and 17 years of strong on-ice play.
Unlike many teams, this affiliation is not benign. It is important to promote Hartford hockey's ties with the Rangers.
Frankly the Hartford Rangers would be a more successful brand than many would think and provide more a "major league" feel to the product.
PROPOSAL # 1: FOR A BLUELINE MARKETING GROUP/GLOBAL SPECTRUM PARTNERSHIP -- AHL MARKETING
This is very basic but provides a framework for a marketing agreement between Global and Blueline Marketing Group.
Working in concert with Global Spectrum, Blueline Marketing Group (BMG) proposes to be the sole marketer of AHL hockey in the XL Center. This agreement would not in any way interfere with or alter existing GS contracts with the State of CT or Madison Square Garden.
Per Game Fee: BMG would pay a GS XXXX per game fee and a XXXX split of ticket revenues above XXX gross per game.
Concessions: GS would retain XXXX of concessions revenue.
Sponsorships: GS would receive XXX of the gross revenue generated on any sale by GS of AHL sponsorship inventory. BMG would receive a XXX commission on AHL sponsorship sales by GS.
Blueline would manage all areas of the operation: Community relations, PR and media, advertising, internet, video, ticket sales, sponsorships, events, gamenight production, etc.
Staffing would include at last 10 full-time experienced professionals who have had success in the Hartford market. Ideally, it would include Mark Willand (President), Garry Swain (sponsorships), Dave Romeiko (tickets), Frank Berrian (community), Bob Crawford (broadcast) and other current AEG employees and other experienced pros.
In addition, Blueline posses a collection of promotional vehicles that are ready to promote AHL hockey including:
* The CT Hockey Hall of Fame
* Whaler Nation (Facebook) 8,500 likes
* CT Whale.com (domain name)
* Hartford Wolf Pack (Facebook) 5,500 likes
* Mailing list: 12,400 Hartford hockey enthusiasts and proven buyers
Ultimately, it will take a lot of work, expertise and a focus on fundamentals that will lead to success. Blueline can deliver this success -- and we can start now!
PROPOSAL #2 -- HOCKEY HERITAGE PACKAGE
The Goal: To Make Hartford the "Heartbeat of Hockey" in CT
The Hartford Hockey Heritage program is designed to help with customer retention (both corporate and ticket sales), build new revenue-enhancing platforms and help grow hockey-related opportunities for Global Spectrum. It will associate Hartford AHL hockey with a lucrative portion of the fan base, which otherwise would see severe attrition with the AHL name change.
AHL Hockey season ticket holders and sponsors would have special access to many exclusive events that are marked as "Hartford Hockey Heritage."
Here’s what Blueline can provide:
1. EXISTING PROMOTIONAL ELEMENTS:
Proposed Fee: XXXXX with Blueline paying all related expenses (i.e. Union fees, travel, appearance fees, rent, etc.).
It is important that these nights are designated green HHH markings. The word "Whalers" or "Whale" should never be used. All media and promotions should included HHH related marks along with Pucky, etc.
PROPOSAL #3 -- MEDIA AND PROMOTIONS PACKAGE
Blueline uses its considerable experience, skill and local know-how to produce the following:
Fee of XXXX with Blueline absorbing the related expenses. Also includes existing promotional outlets (mailing list, Facebook, etc as outlined earlier.