Can a hockey club seriously help a city’s marketing message be heard? I’ve lived the proof of how a hockey team can break the ice and make way for a sales message to be heard, even though I’m at best, an ‘ankler’ and only a part-time fan.
Tonight’s last game of the season for both The Tampa Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets* at the MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg, puts me in mind of another time when hockey played exactly that role.
My personal experience came as The Winnipeg Jets played all over North America. As a result they put my little prairie home town and its brand new Winnipeg Convention Centre on the map, literally. Here’s how it intersected with my work in marketing a highly monetized sector of the meetings and conventions industry.
Headlines that promoted our hockey heroes. Over time they included Bobby Hull, Teemu Selanee, Thomas Steen, Alexei Zhamnov, Dale Hawerchuk, Anders Hedberg and more. These stars’ stories and successes perpetuated the city’s hot winner image and overcame our main identity for an endless winter.
Fame as a centre of sport helped me directly the year I was dispatched to go call on prospective clients in their offices in Washington, DC. I knocked on doors, an unknown in a strange city whose streets were lettered not so much named.
The entire sales trip was a Canadian Government Office of Tourism initiative that included a trade show and a by-invitation lunch.
A specialized menu showcased Canada’s bounty. Our famous salmon, wines, produce and highest quality meats were served up to the association executives and key meeting planners before they watched a promotional film.
Winnipeg was nowhere to be seen in the promotion of Canada as a desirable destination on the map on the screen. Like the scene in Sleepless in Seattle, a little animated plane graphically flew over Canada but from Vancouver to Toronto.
I can’t claim charisma and sales savvy as the ONLY reasons people let me put my foot in their doors on essentially a series of cold calls. The inroads I did make on behalf of the Winnipeg Convention Centre came also from ‘the halo effect’ of being from THAT hot hockey town, back there where my incoming sales desk and event coordination duties were on site.
In 1996, hockey left town. Team’s owner, Barry Shenkarow, sold the property whose value to the city’s spirit and coffers had always been debated by tax payers and ticket buyers.
In the critical messaging interim, the team was missed for its power to bring an entire city to mind positively in any marketing campaign. It was a blow to city pride and those of us in tourism and hospitality felt their absence faster than the official tally could be made, plus or minus, at the city coffers.
By 2011, the Jets came back. It’s not the same team that left the city 15 years earlier to rise again as in Phoenix as the Coyotes. This group of players and their families came mostly from The Atlanta Thrashers. Already they are carrying the entire province’s presence on the map and lifting spirits in ‘The Peg’ as Manitoba’s capital is sometimes known.
From my perch in Vancouver BC now, I’ve now experienced a sea of blue and green jerseys on the streets, in the schools and around offices and banks that cheered on the Canucks in the last Stanley Cup series. I still smile quietly when I see the new Jets logo and uniforms and say, “Go Jets Go”.
Get that word out.
Helena’s Hockey Communication Centre on the 7th
*For those hot on hockey, you know that both The Lightning and The Jets both play their last game of the season tonight, Saturday the 7th. Will it be lucky for either one?
The game doesn’t matter in terms of standings. Both clubs are out of the playoffs. Now it’s about individual goals like Steve Stamkos (age 22!) for whom it’s the last chance to have a 60 goal season. FYI: it was done by Alexander Ovechkin who scored 65 in the 2007-08 season. Other players to hit 60 were Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, who managed that in the 1995-96 season in for Pittsburgh.
Video of the last 20 seconds of the last game ‘ever’ on April 28, 1996