Coming off a down season, the Arizona Coyotes experienced a summer that offered a blurred future when the Glendale City Council voted to terminate the city’s 15-year lease. Flash forward to the fall, and the team opened a two-year deal with the city through 2017 by capturing its home opener against the Penguins in front of a full house on Saturday night.
The team approached the unusual challenge by rallying the community around the franchise, with an eye toward capturing a new generation of fans as Coyotes CMO John Pierce launched a campaign “that celebrates and underlines the unique DNA of hockey in Arizona,” with a call to action through a slate of online and offline activities that includes a long-form brand film and video content as well as in-venue experiences such as the ability to download a pair of “Coyote eyes.” Now that the season is officially underway, Cynopsis Sports spoke with Pierce about the initiatives, how to turn a bad situation into a positive and whether or not the campaign is working.
Pierce on the offseason: At first glance, the situation with Glendale looked to be a negative, but our enormous fan base turned it into a positive. We had already been talking to fans since last January, along with new and longtime employees, sponsors and the entire family about how they wanted people to talk about this club moving forward. We already had the sense that we were outsiders, we were different and that hockey is different here. Those themes were already emerging over the spring and when the Glendale situation happened, we looked at our campaign that we were developing and we looked at what was happening and determined that there was nothing we needed to change about what we were preparing to say about ourselves. The notion that we were outsiders and that we were different was perfect for the situation we found ourselves in.
On team fans being “different”: I would argue that Coyotes fans are the most loyal and ardent fans in professional sports. I would say that because if you look at our history on and off the ice, these fans have been put through a lot and yet if you come to one of our games, they are here early, they howl loud and proud and they stay late.
On the new campaign: We’ve got two main opportunities. The first is to feed our existing avid fan base by giving them the tools and messaging so they can take our message forward. So the brand film that we did was for them. The social media tools, such as the headers, let them be loud and proud. The second is that Arizona is a market made up of many transplants and adults who brought their professional sports team allegiances with them. So we recognize that they have their own favorite teams to pull for, but their kids are ours. We are going to fight for those kids and we want to convey to the parents that we want those kids to root for the hometown team the same way you did.
On reaching youth: Facebook and Twitter are important vehicles to talk to adults, but Snapchat and Instagram are far more important to us. We feel like we can really connect with those younger fans on those platforms. At the beginning of last season, our Instagram page began with around 20,000 likes and now we are up to around 99,000 and our engagement rates are through the roof. Last March, we became the first ever team to do a Snapchat night and it was a huge success. We had a scavenger hunt throughout the building that culminated with a meet-and-greet with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who himself is active on Snapchat.
On results: We see this as a long-term strategy. A lot of teams create these campaigns, which are intended to be a one year campaign. This is intended to by our “Just Do It.” This is a repositioning of a very distinct NHL team. Most teams work really hard to figure out what makes them different. For us, it was obvious. This campaign is intended as a multi-year program that is intended to help us tell stories about the franchise and will continue as long as it’s useful for the purpose.
In the near term, we do have increased ticket sales over last year and sponsorship is up over last year. Our opening night is about to sell out and we anticipate seeing continued increases this year although there is a lot that goes into that like team performance. We feel really strongly about how we are messaging the team moving forward.