As you may or may not know, I covered the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes as the first non main stream media beat reporter and later the NHL (current coverage). Throughout the Coyotes ownership circus, the marketing of the team was basically some gruff slogan set to some up tempo music that appeared in ads and that was it. That was the best they ever did with marketing plans (pre-new ownership). The team just basically threw money into the wind with their marketing dollars and poorly thought out plans which was really sad to watch happen. Sure their budgets were limited, but there was no evidence of the marketing team stretching what little money they had for a given season if they even executed their marketing plans at all.
In addition, the Coyotes social media (prior to the new ownership group) was even worse as it was basically an extension of the PR department, which should never happen anywhere. The concept of the ‘social’ part of ‘social media’ was foreign to all not to mention leveraging social media marketing practices. For a long time the Coyotes, as well as much of the NHL, didn’t get the ‘social’ part of social media. It’s taken a few years for the league and it’s teams come around into the modern era but now it’s really fun to see some of the things that teams have been doing the past few seasons.
Anyways, I’ve been reading, watching, and in some cases, actually witnessing in person the Coyotes marketing over the years. I think it’s time to write something about the topic since they’re doing something more than throwing money at a gruff slogan again.
Over the years, I’ve studied numerous US and Canadian NHL fan bases (for marketing reasons) including Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver, and Edmonton. Over time I learned the nuances of the different countries but cities as well and have used it when writing articles past, present, and future.
I started my AZ Vibe website and social media sites (The domain name has since been hijacked even though I own the name – Long story) from the ground up (start up) to a following, at its peak, of over 500,000 unique visitors a month. I implemented numerous marketing campaigns for years with a bootstrap budget.
Part of my approach to the Coyotes coverage was to fill in the gaps in their coverage, which was and in some cases still is pretty big. When I started, the team didn’t have the amount of coverage they have today and the demand for Coyotes news was and still is pretty high. I provided behind the scenes stuff, information that was available in other NHL markets, along with articles that fans wanted. Pretty much a lot of what you see today from the team they couldn’t or didn’t know how to do back then. It took a lot of feedback and research before I was able to find exactly what the readers wanted.
In 2012 I was hired by Hensley Beverage Company’s Marketing Department to run their Social Media across all their divisions (Anheuser-Busch, Craft Beer, Food, Spirits, and more) as well as learning traditional marketing and advertising (TV, Radio, Print, etc). I brought all I learned from my AZ Vibe experiences and was able to successfully adapt and promote numerous different brands with different campaigns across all their divisions and products. You can see many samples of my work on their Facebook, Twitter, and their website throughout 2012 (More samples below).
Fast forward to 2015….
The Coyotes kicked off their new marketing campaign for the 2015-2016 season that ‘Celebrates the Unique DNA of Hockey in Arizona’. At first I thought “Oh great another ‘throw money at a catch phrase and hope people buy tickets’ campaign”. After years and years of the same thing over and over again, you would probably have the same reaction too.
However, there isn’t a catch phrase this time. There is a multi faceted plan covering numerous traditional and online marketing methods.
The multi-channel campaign will consist of outdoor, digital, broadcast, theatrical, social and event experiences, and will honor the uniqueness of the Coyotes’ authentic and inclusive hockey culture.
“This proud campaign is a celebration of our extraordinarily loyal fans who are arguably the most devoted in the entire NHL,” said Coyotes Co-Owner, President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc. “This campaign focuses on our very bright future on and off the ice and our commitment to Arizona.”
This link has more details on what their initial plan is if you want to learn more. I’m not going to waste your time regurgitating it here.
The main point you should pay attention to in this campaign is that their new marketing plan finally captures the one bit of the culture here in Arizona that has been missing from the weakly thought up and poorly executed marketing plans of years past – The Coyotes finally are showing that they ‘get’ that this market doesn’t have deep roots of hockey tradition like most Canadian NHL markets and many US NHL markets. The thing with Arizona, compared to the rest of the NHL markets in North America, is that the traditions of hockey are just starting to spring roots that will soon grow deep.
No one outside the state of Arizona gets this. No one.
People judging the team have just looked at the surface of the team, which was (and sometimes still is) the ownership circus, as the measuring stick of how successful or bad hockey is Arizona. Of all the articles that have been written about this marketing plan, most of them were written by great sports reporters who don’t know anything about marketing or business reporters who don’t know a thing about hockey. Neither of these groups really have shown they have a grasp on the history of hockey in Arizona or what it takes to grow the sport and how it applies to properly marketing the team.
This is why the NHL has fought so hard to keep the Coyotes in Arizona – to keep the traditions of hockey alive and growing at a productive rate.
That said, I have to say this is new marketing plan is a good beginning and a great sign that the Coyotes are indeed here to stay (knock on wood).
What’s missing here?
Even though the marketing plan is a good start, there’s lots of key aspects of marketing this brand that is missing. I’ll explain some of the big ones below.
Marketing to fans OUTSIDE of Arizona
It’s not clear the team gets this or not with the new plan but in the past it’s been ignored. The team’s fan base extends to the 49 other states in the US and provinces in Canada as well as around the world.
For example, how many people in the Coyotes organization know that even in Manchester, UK they have a fan base?
I was chatting with a Coyotes fan from California (before their game with Anaheim last week) about the new marketing plan. He loved the plan but when it comes to people outside Arizona he basically said ‘What about me?’. It’s a fair question that deserves an answer.
One suggestion I made to ownership via Twitter is to create a message board for fans around the world to connect and talk about Coyotes hockey. Twitter and Facebook can only do so much for the average fan. The Coyotes NEED a message board badly. This is a step in the right direction on how you can connect with your WORLDWIDE fan base. Besides, I’m willing to bet that the team truly doesn’t understand the power of a unified online fan base.
I’ll give you a couple examples of the power of a unified online fan base from the Vancouver Canucks Message boards, one of the oldest, and for a time, the most powerful message board in the NHL.
In the 2004 the Vancouver Canucks met the Calgary Flames in the playoffs and little did everyone know the havoc the fan bases would wreak on each other online.
Example 1 – The Flames IP ban ALL of British Colombia from connecting to their site
That’s not a misprint. When the seeds were set for the playoffs the Calgary Flames forums were overrun by Vancouver Canucks fans to the point to where the Flames took the extraordinary step to block ALL of British Columbia from connecting to their website. Yes, the ENTIRE province.
Example 2 – Rallying the troops
One member of the forum during this series worked at the hotel that the Flames were staying at in Vancouver. He and others helped organize fans to come outside of their hotel and wake them up with horns honking and other partying noises. The troops were rallied via the message boards and they did their thing.
Granted, these examples are a little extreme and given what happened after the 2011 final (Vancouver Riots) this probably isn’t surprising to you all. The point is that the fan base has a way to interact, unite, talk hockey and be able to connect with other fans from around the globe. The Coyotes simply just don’t have that available for their fans right now and I know a lot of them (having met many of them over the years) would LOVE this.
So how do the Coyotes plan to market the team to fans who live in away game cities and around the world? That remains to be seen, if at all.
One of the biggest things I learned at Hensley was marketing Bud Light/Budweiser to the Latin population. It’s a completely different ball game than standard marketing of Bud Light/Budweiser and marketing something like Craft Beer. I’m not sure if the new ownership noticed but there’s a HUGE Latin population within a stone’s throw of Westgate. That is an insanely huge market that is untapped by this or any NHL team in other markets if memory serves.
Is this part of the Coyotes ‘grand’ plan?
Marketing/Merchandising to Women
What’s the plan here? How do you plan to bring new female fans into the fold in addition to the current fan base? Also, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard over the years from female fans is the lack of and extremely poor choices of female Coyotes items to purchase (Hint: sequins = bad). I’ve been told by the NHL in the past that the teams control the merchandising of their products to the fans.
What’s the plan here? This is a HUGE need for current fans and will be a need if they want to attract new fans.
Get the PR out of the Marketing/Social Media
Historically, the Coyotes social media has been just a boring extension of the PR department. Lame. While the prepared news is part of what needs to be released to the masses, they in no way should have a say in the marketing of the team. They can provide input and send prepared tweets or press releases to the Social Media team to publish. The PR team in no way should control what’s being sent out via Social Media. That may or may not be the case now but I’ve seen it in the past. From what I’ve seen this season, their social media accounts are actually social….somewhat.
Lack of being a point of contact for the team
A few days ago a Coyotes fan on Twitter had a question about an electronic ticket and if it was able to be used at recent game. I told her to Tweet the team and see what happens as this is one of the primary functions of any social media team.
One of the primary functions of the Coyotes social media account is to be the online point of contact for issues such as these. I like the LA Kings solution to this problem (Hint) in their Twitter description.
Again, this marketing plan is a good beginning and foundation for the team moving forward but it remains to be seen if they ‘get’ the bigger picture for their marketing or not.
Samples of my Facebook posts at Hensley
Original Coyotes Press Release for their current marketing plan.
Coyotes Marketing Articles