Thursday, March 3, 2011

A look at some Seattle Thunderbirds merchandise displayed
on a fleece blanket. Each season-ticket holder receives a blanket.

It is a word that is often heard around and throughout the WHL.
Should a team “market” while it is on the upside of the curve of success?
Or should it “market” during the seasons when it struggles on the ice and, in the successful seasons, let the winning do the “marketing” for it?
But what is “marketing?” Or is it another word for “promoting?”

The Seattle Thunderbirds left their long-time home during the 2008-09 season and moved into the brand new ShoWare Centre in Kent, Wash.
This season, although the team has struggled on the ice and is scuffling to make the playoffs in the 10-team Western Conference, attendance is up markedly over last season.
Like the chicken or the egg, or why the chicken crossed the road, you could argue for ages on why the Thunderbirds’ attendance is up that much.
But one thing you can’t argue about is how hard the team works to attract fans.
Ian Henry, the Thunderbirds’ director of public and media relations, says that his organization feels “we have the best marketing and promotional materials in not just the U.S. Division, but the entire WHL.”
You can bet there are other WHL teams that will take issue with that statement, but that’s not the point here. The point of this is to try and provide you with some idea of how hard teams work to attract and keep fans.

A Colin Jacobs' children's t-shirt.
Henry provided a list showing some of the special nights and items that have been made available during the Thunderbirds’ 2010-11 schedule. Taken individually, it might not seem like such a big deal — one game on one night with some kind of giveaway.
But when you look at the overall package, you start to realize what a huge production one WHL season is for some of these teams.
This season, here’s a quick look at some of what the Thunderbirds have done:
Sept. 25 — The first 6,000 fans received a T-Birds train whistle; all fans received a magnetic schedule.
Oct. 16 and Jan. 14 — The first 1,000 children received BECU T-Birds beanies. (BECU is a community credit union.)
For the games of Nov. 19, Jan. 21 and March 11, fans were able to purchase 10 tickets, 10 Pub Night t-shirts and 10 beers for $200.
On Nov. 20, the first 4,000 fans received Valley Medical Center T-Birds scarves.
On Nov. 27, the first 3,000 fans each got a bobblehead of goaltender Calvin Pickard.
On Jan. 1, the handout, to the first 1,000 children, was a Colin Jacobs t-shirt.
Rather than do up sets of player cards, the Thunderbirds and the University of Phoenix chose to have the players photos put o playing cards. And the first 3,000 fans who showed up Feb. 5 each received a deck of cards.
If you were at the Thunderbirds’ game on Feb. 12, you will be aware that everyone in attendance received Valley Medical Center Thunderstix.
All fans attending the game on March 12 will receive a team poster, sponsored by Sterling Savings and Valley Medical Center.
On March 19, each of the first 2,500 fans through the doors will receive a University of Phoenix T-Birds umbrella.

Cool Bird bobblehead.
The Thunderbirds also cut a promotional deal with State Farm and had magnets made up that feature a different player on each one. They made a series of seven of these, each featuring a different player, and handed them out on Oct. 26, Nov. 2, Nov. 30 Dec. 14, Dec. 28, Jan. 18 and Feb. 1. These went to the first 2,500 fans at six games, the first 3,000 at another.
On top of all that, every fan in Calvin’s Corner, which includes 50 seats, receives a neon green cap. The Thunderbirds also have a children’s birthday party package with each participand receiving a blue Thunderbirds cap.
Meanwhile, if you purchased a season-ticket you received a T-Birds fleece blanket and a T-Birds license place holder.
And if you happened to purchase a 2010-11 Holiday Flex Pack, you received a Cool Bird Bobblehead — Cool Bird being the team’s mascot.
And that doesn’t include the Thunderbirds’ calendar.
Keep in mind, too, that this stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Someone in the front office doesn’t wake up on game day and say, “Hmm! We should hand out Calvin Pickard bobbleheads tonight.”

Even the Calvin Pickard bobblehead makes the save!
The decision to have a bobblehead night has to be made months in advance. As Henry explained, a prototype has to be approved and production will take about six weeks. Most likely, the items are produced overseas, perhaps in China, so there is shipping time to take into consideration.Henry also explained that a decision has to be made on whether you have one bobblehead night or three or four. Let’s say you order 4,000 bobbleheads -- do you have one night and hand out one to each of the first 4,000 fans; or, do you have four nights and give one to each of the first 1,000 fans?
The Kamloops Blazers will hold the first bobblehead night in franchise history tonight when the Lethbridge Hurricanes are at Interior Savings Centre. The first 3,000 fans through the doors will receive Jarome Iginla bobbleheads. The team also made the decision to hold back what a press release described as “a limited quantity” and sell them during the last three regular-season games. Iginla, of course, played for the Blazers and is one of the team’s five owners.
The Blazers are coming off the largest crowd of their season. They drew 5,527 fans on Wednesday night. That was 900 people more than showed up for a Dec. 28 game against the Vancouver Giants.
The Wednesday crowed raised the Blazers’ average attendance this season from 4,084 to 4,130 fans per game.
And how did they do that?
Through marketing. It was the second annual First Nations Night, and the Stanley Cup was in the house.

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