Monday, November 16, 2009

Ideas to Market the Rochester Amerks

I love hockey. It's an indescribably wonderful sport.

When I was just about knee-high, my dad took my brother and I to our first hockey game, sometime around 1990 or 1991. It was our hometown Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. We were both instantly addicted to the entire experience and have been fans ever since.

Fast forward to today. After a few well-documented disaster seasons the club lost a lot of fans and the owners were forced to sell. Now they have new owners in their second year who committed to winning and so far have delivered. The Amerks are off to a 14-5 start; which includes a franchise record 11 game win streak.

But the fans have not to come back. Their two highest attendance totals are 6,035 and 4,124 with five games drawing totals of less than 3,000 fans. This for a team that drew nearly 8,000 fans per game less than ten years ago.

I must say that the new owners and management deserve a lot of credit. They understood that even the greatest marketer cannot successfully sell a loser so they even spent their own money to sign players (not solely relying on the NHL parent to sign players) and form a winning team.

They have made sound business decisions as well. They welcomed back many retired players to be present in the arena and returned to wearing the traditional read, white and blue sweaters.

However, there is still more that must be done.

1) Fix the ticket prices- I still contend that the ticket prices are too high. Tickets are priced at five different levels; $20, $19, $17, $14 and $11- all are way too expensive for one night of entertainment for a family of four- especially in uncertain economic times. They should cut the prices by $2 across the board. However, I know they won't do that- especially if they didn't as a goodwill gesture immediately after purchasing the team.

So I purpose two different changes. The first is to eliminate the $1 increase on all tickets purchased on the day of the game. The upcharge is scary similar to the "gotcha" fees that banks and airlines stick their customers with. Last time I checked on the banks and airlines this customer care policy was not exactly paying off. Secondly, simplify the ticket price levels (or arena map) from five down to four. This simpler price plan will at least give the appearance of some price relief.

Even though I attend games I currently never pay full price for a ticket due to heavy discounting. In the long run the Amerks would greatly benefit from creating a simpler price points that are closer to the intersection of supply and demand but eliminating the heavy discounting.

2) Customers already in the building are amazing opportunities- Even though a lot of the fans who attend Amerks games are regulars, they're plenty who are not. It's crucial to identify these people and "move them up the ladder" into more regular customers. It takes time and some brand building- you cannot get from the bottom rung to the top in one step. Step one is to get their contact information, which is easy, but the Amerks don't attempt to do.

Here's one way to start.

In a busy area set up a table with a ballot box and contestant forms with a question to answer. Who will score the first goal of the game? At what minute? The three stars? The final Score? Just add lines for name, address, phone and email. Winners take home a small prize like an autograph or gift card.

And you could go a step further and set up a separate ballot box for kids to participate in and later send a kids club form or a birthday card if you get a date of birth.

Soon the database will have a lot of fresh names to send marketing materials. Be careful because over send and your messages become instant junk.

3) Promote Smarter- The Amerks are currently using this television ad to promote its games. It's quite cheesy it's and grammatically awful: "There's no limit to the fun you get."

But I could even excuse that. What's inexcusable is trying to position their unique product on "fun." When selling entertainment, fun is assumed. Tell us why Amerks hockey is unique. Excite the fans. Give the product an identity. A far better ad would be video that plays on the scoreboard before the game- which unfortunately has not made it to Youtube yet.

Additionally, the Amerks (and they're not alone) market themselves to many different segments of fans using the same tactics. Does it make sense to market to a college student using the same tactics as you would a family? Of course not. Taking the extra steps to customize their marketing efforts when reaching out to vastly differing segments is critical because each is driven in a unique way.

4) Make Better Use of Media- It's no secret that the quantity and rate of media that is being consumed by everyone is rapidly increasing. Today, everyone with a Facebook account or blog can be a media outlet. The Amerks are no different. They utilize social media tools such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter as well as more traditional forms such as the newspaper. There are a lot of options to engage fans today.

But it's never the outlet that's engaging- it's the content delivered.

Currently, the Amerks content less than engaging. Their Youtube channel features some postgame interviews, practice footage and press conferences but not much else.

To be more engaging they need content that is unique, interesting and original. And the quality of media is holds an an even greater importance because they're points during the season when fans cannot consume the primary product (live home games) for six to ten days at a time.

For instance, the Amerks could show off all the unique places the city has to offer to the players that new here- and record it. Perhaps you can take them for their first garbage plates.

Or create a video diary of the Amerks on road trip.

Find out the how they got to the AHL. Everyone has a story...but sometimes you have to dig for it.

The possibilities are limitless.

While the media is changing dramatically; one rule is not. Be interesting.

Tell me what you think. What suggestions do you have for the Rochester Amerks? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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