Remember when Alec Baldwin was a tolerable thespian? His role in Glengarry Glen Ross as an arrogant, over the top, mean-spirited, motivating, and powerful alpha dog salesman is one of my favorites of all time. His speech to the sales office spurring them to be better salesmen is seven minutes of Oscar-worthy heaven. In that speech he talks about "always be closing" when it comes sales. His demeanor is steady. His focus is un-tested. And his wrath is noticeable. Granted I'm no Alec Baldwin nor do I advocate his use of bravado when motivating (at least not all the time) , but I can certainly empathize with his character Blake from the big screen.
Oklahoma City is a great sports town. College sports is the king, and recently Thunder basketball has become the queen. Fans support their sports addictions by buying tickets, merchandise, television PPV's, and NBA League Passes as any good enthusiast would. Because these sports feel so "major", the "minor" teams often go un-noticed and un-realized. This isn't a complaint, just a statement of truthful facts.
As a fan of one of these "minor" sports, namely Barons hockey, it takes quite a bit of "always be closing" to encourage the goodhearted people of OKC to partake in sports on ice. Today, our roundtable discusses "selling" their team. How do you sell Barons hockey?
The roundtable today consists of Patricia, who's contributions to the blogging world at Artfulpuck are always entertaining; Scott, purveyor of the great minor league Oilers site OilFieldHockey.com; season ticket holder, photographer, and Barons chronicler, Candace who posts at A New Ice Age; Evan, the featured prospect writer for the notorious OilersJambalaya; Avid hockey fan, and Star Wars lover Jonathan; and, of course, your two lovable Copper & Blue writers, Neal and Eric.
Patricia: Hockey is like Formula 1 Racing on ice and it makes football and basketball look like sports for sissys! As long as the puck is in play, a player's shorts can fall off and the game still continues!
Needless to say, the notion of a player's pants falling off mid-game intrigues you. Am I right? (No, I have never seen a player lose his shorts, but I have seen at least one player down to his shorts!) I then convince you, future hockey fan, to attend a game with me where I will provide a hockey in-game tutorial, tossing a bit of hockey history and nonsense into the mix. Following the eye-opening epiphany of your first hockey experience, we then adjourn to a nearby tavern to celebrate and make plans for yet another game.
Over drinks I usually add this great quote by Brendan Shanahan when he was asked the question "Is hockey hard?" - "I don't know, you tell me. We need to have the strength and power of a football player, the stamina of a marathon runner, and the concentration of a brain surgeon. But we need to put all this together while moving at high speeds on a cold and slippery surface while five other guys use clubs to try and kill us, oh yeah did I mention that this whole time we're standing on blades 1/8 of an inch thick? Is ice hockey hard? I don't know, you tell me. Next question."
Scott: This is where a hockey players dream begins, cause this is the place where they have to show their stuff.
Candace:Ha ha...no pressure there, eh? (If I do well, do I get a marketing position???) Anyway, I first sell a team by selling the sport. (I sold my husband of nearly 12 years on hockey on our second date). The basic marketing tenets are the speed, agility, strength, toughness...all the usual stuff.
If the fan knows a bit about that, and are indeed somewhat casual fans, I'd sell them on this point - No, you're not looking at the NHL's next Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky down here. You're looking at the guys who will make those guys even more successful. Every superstar needs one awesome supporting cast, and these are the guys that will make that happen.
My basic line last season was that you could go to a Barons game on Thursday and see a player, then turn on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday and see the same guy suddenly up with Edmonton. Their break could literally come *that* quick. And it would honestly be in your best interests to catch *every* game, because you never know when that call up could mean they played their last ever AHL game. If I've taken my last photo of Teemu Hartikainen in a Barons/AHL sweater, as a hockey fan, those will be absolute treasures to me...just knowing I got to witness one of his last games. Same goes for every player that ever puts on a Barons sweater; I can look back and say, "This was this guy's first game/last game", or "this was this guy's first pro goal"....Memories are constantly being made, so come on down and be a part!!!!
Evan: Fans follow teams because of the experience, the excitement and because they feel THEY ARE THE TEAM! Make a connection and they will like the game. They need to feel they are a part of it. Attract the family by making it affordable and a experience when at the game, or when watching the game. You need to find ways to change the culture of the city by making it the team relevant to it. In other words the team needs to matter. The Barons need to be looked at as a franchise that represents what OKC is all about. Learn how football is promoted and see if there are similarities that can be connected.
I would look at trying to cross promote something with the local Football groups? Universities, collages etc...
Jonathan: A lot of the issue with Hockey in OKC is that negatives from the CHL days are still around. People have moved on and want to deal with real sports with strong talented athletes. With the NBA lock-out the Barons have an opportunity, It is time to show people that the talent in the NHL is so rich and deep, that guys are overflowing into the AHL. We have a high-caliber team here with some moves that are just unexpected. One of the positives about the Thunder is how young and fast that team is for their league. Well with a minor league you're getting a lot of times faster playing hockey than the big team because of the sheer youth. Another great aspect of the AHL is that goalie talent is hard to come by, which means that a lot of times AHL teams can't stack their last line of defence with the same level of skill that they can their offense or defence. This means that some games have a higher change of goals. And what is more fun than a 7-5 hockey game?
Eric: As of now, with the NBA season looking to be cancelled, the Barons are going to be the only professional team in town. For the first half, they will still be competing with University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State football, but once those end they'll have to make a strong push to get people in the door. Hockey is a tough sport to sell in Oklahoma, but with the addition of muscle and a few skill players, it may draw in more people who enjoy different ends of the hockey spectrum. A lot of the issue isn't so much on the Barons themselves though, as I think the lack of media has been a hindrance to the team building a strong fanbase as well.
Neal: Unless you count college football as a training ground for the NFL, I'd argue that the American Hockey League is the most important minor league breeding ground for major league players. Thus the sell is simple, but the difficulties are still numerous. Although hockey has been played for many many years in Oklahoma, there is still a large population that asks "What's icing?". The marketing of an unfamiliar sport is tough, when you are also attempting to appease the group that is full on hockey minded. I think it always goes back to the basics. I enthusiastically boast about seeing Teemu Hartikainen in Oklahoma one week, and then being interviewed by the Hockey Night in Canada crew the next. As a fan, we have to remember that our enthusiasm for the game can be contagious. And that word of mouth is always the best advertising.
Join us tomorrow for another roundtable question. Will be talking about the Western Conference of the AHL and where the Barons fit in the standings.