Hockey tickets aren’t cheap. Thanks to multiple viewing platforms, ways to watch aren’t limited to the turnstile and the TV. Even teams with no television deal can and do stream their games to fans who can’t get to the rink.
Still, the rink remains where the experience lives.
There is no better way to watch a hockey game than to be there live — to hear bodies hit the boards and the echoing crack of a slap shot, to follow the play away from the puck, or simply to watch the placid turns of the Zamboni between periods. But there are more convenient ways.
For hockey organizations, good — or perhaps in this case, good enough — is truly the enemy of best.
How, then, to put a little distance between the two?
B. Joseph Pine coined the phrase “experience economy” in 1998, later expanding on it in a book subtitled “Work is Theater & Every Business a Stage.” Nowhere is that truer than in sports.
Offer fans something their peers can’t access. That notion has worked from box seats to suites back down to seats behind the bench. Fans want the “inside” experience, and that includes glimpses at dressing rooms, open seating for pregame skates or practice sessions, even seeing where the Zamboni parks. Every doorway a fan can’t normally go through is an opportunity. See your arena through unjaded eyes. Where those eyes land are opportunities.
Speaking of Which …
Get the kids involved. Not only are you bringing in a future generation of fans, you’re infusing your arena with a child’s enthusiasm and energy. If you can get the little fans’ attention, you’ll leave the big fans smiling.
Put the Social in Media
Make sure your social media presence isn’t a one-way street. Retweet a fan’s Twitter post. Reply to Facebook comments. Like an Instagram pic. Fans will feel valued by these interactions and they will see those platforms as a resource.
While you’re at it, make sure your fans can stay connected when they’re in your arena. You don’t want your fans to see a spinning wheel on their smartphones when they’re trying to brag to their friends about the awesome time they’re having at your game. They are unwitting ambassadors for your brand — make sure they can sell.
Marketers call it “surprise and delight,” but it’s really being a good host. Sure, it’s an upgraded seat here and there, or a free hotdog, but it’s also a recognizable face from the organization stopping by the cheap seats to say, “Thanks for coming.” It’s an usher making sure the cotton candy vendor gets down the aisle where the kids are sitting.
And, yes, loyalty programs are fantastic ways to encourage return visits and track fan behavior — the data from which can be used to further encourage return visits or maximize the returns on those returns.
It isn’t always about coming up with new technology or otherwise re-inventing the wheel. Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking around the arena and seeing opportunities.
The American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers have more than a dozen Fan Experience Programs, all tied to minimum ticket purchases, that further separate the in-arena experience from watching at home. Some of those include:
• Drop the Puck. Yes, it’s ceremonial. Better for the shins.
• Penalty Box Experience. Up to eight fans can watch pregame warmups from the sin bin.
• Fan Tunnel. High-five the players as they take the ice.
• Ride the Zamboni. You know you want to.
• Starter of the Game. Stand on the ice, beside the players during introductions and the national anthem.
Do you think one player a night would be willing to show a select group of fans how he tapes a stick 90 minutes before a game? Maybe your equipment manager could find a few minutes to give a skate-sharpening demo. How about letting fans load up the puck freezer?
The idea is … there are no bad ideas. To those people who are around the game every day, some of these things may seem mundane. But to the fan who wants the “authentic experience,” these glimpses, limited to a select few, have value — value that hockey organizations would be foolish to squander.
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey gear. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.