There are times when Jake Duhaime, the Social Networking Manager for the Detroit Red Wings, will use this space to discuss Social Media and the National Hockey League. His views are meant to enlighten, provoke thought, and do not represent the organization, management, or the team itself. You can also find his musings/ramblings on Twitter under the handle @jakeduhaime.
SAN JOSE – Before the start of this series, Red Wings TV sent Ken Kal into the streets of San Jose, asking the locals what they knew about hockey.
In a sense, it wasn’t fair to the natives, seeing that Santana Row is lined with Gucchi and Burberry stores, making it more Malibu than Motor City. The atmosphere was far more impressive inside the 17,000+ seat HP Pavilion, where teal is the color of choice and the crowd cheers and chomps from the opening face-off until the final whistle.
In my role, I am always curious to see how non-traditional hockey markets market their club and connect with fans. We’re so lucky to have a tremendous youth, high school and college hockey presence in Hockeytown, helping to organically grow the sport on a daily basis. It is a luxury that not all teams enjoy, especially in an area like San Jose, where ice is at a premium.
San Jose and Northern California has been one of the biggest NHL success stories since the Sharks came into the league back in 1991, starting at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, before moving to HP Pavilion during their third season. The region boasts a large DMA TV market in the San Francisco/Oakland region, but the growth of San Jose and Santa Clara give the team a large population base to work with.
The Sharks also had one of the more powerful brands in sport during the mid-1990’s, leading the NHL in merchandise sales in 1994. That brand, along with recent rebranding efforts, was pivotal in growing a youthful fan base, especially by most traditional hockey standards.
And with a youthful fan base by traditional NHL standards, the building itself is very loud during games. Like, for instance, when Joe Pavelski and Jimmy Howard got into a scuffle during the second period of Game 1, with the sold out crowd then serenading Howard, who had a 1-0 lead at the time, with chants of his name. Talking with Howie after the fact, he compared the event and the building to something he’d see in Hockey East, during his days at the University of Maine.
San Jose’s success attracting and utilizing a younger demographic is critical in my role as Social Media Manager of an original six club. While everyone is excited that a ‘buzz’ exists in the Joe again, we must not forget that marketing in sports happens at all levels. And if you want to have success with a non-traditional base, it is essential to have success on the grass roots level. The Sharks, from an outsiders perspective, have done a great job of that. They’ve grown the sport, the team and the league in an area of the country where the average winter temperature is around 60 degrees.
Growing the sport on a grass roots level doesn’t necessarily mean getting kids on a pair of ice skates, it does mean getting the most casual of sports fans engaged in the team and the brand, even if that person can’t afford the price of a seat. It means getting people to watch a game on TV on a night they wouldn’t have before. It means connecting fans with our players on a more personal level, not through the same old sports clichés that you’ll find in the papers. It means engaging our audience from the start of training camp, through Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL Draft and free agency.
Every team, regardless of how successful the product is on the ice, has a ways to go in this department. Though as the big guy, with a social media audience of nearly 600,000, looking at a non-traditional market helps create new opportunities that our team will hopefully take advantage of.
Tradition is wonderful, but innovation is an essential element to our survival.