If you are in the hockey business, or even just a hockey fan, you know that the NHL as a business has a certain old-school reputation. Upper management is not infrequently referred to as an “old boys club,” since the same people (mostly men) who have been in hockey for years as players, coaches, and the like are the ones who are chosen for management positions later on. This seems very reasonable in the sense that the people leading are those with an innate love for and knowledge of the game, but it can have its drawbacks as well. One possible side effect is that new ideas and new approaches to hockey as a business are slow to come in and disseminate among management groups. This can lead certain teams’ marketing efforts to have a somewhat outdated focus on game-by-game sales, rather than on generating advocacy among the fans that they do get in the building by managing the user experience.
Granted, the consequences of this are certainly less glaring in traditional hockey markets that have the sport as a part of the culture. While attendance fluctuates depending on the recent success or lack thereof of the local team, it is often (though not always) fairly stable in the longer term. But for the non-traditional teams, attendance can be difficult to predict or control, making it that much more crucial to have the right focus when strategizing marketing efforts.
With all the talk from the NHL about growing the game, all teams, regardless of market type, should make an effort to shift a large part of their marketing strategy from just raising the raw number of game by game or even season-by season ticket sales to selling the experience to current and incoming fans in such a way that they then go out into their homes, workplaces, social spheres, and promote the game themselves. Unless teams start turning hockey goers into hockey advocates, they are limiting their growth potential exponentially.