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Volume 21 No. 2
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Playoffs have teams in promotion mode

After the Tampa Bay Lightning clinched its first Stanley Cup playoffs berth in four years with a victory March 31, the team unveiled a grassroots campaign called “Bolts Nation” to drive support and ticket sales. The team offered fans swag bags containing yard signs, window flaps and branded T-shirts; launched a “beard-a-thon” beard-growing contest; and debuted a season-ticket deal offering 2011-12 subscriptions at 2010-11 prices.

“We want to engage any fan who wants to jump on the bandwagon,” said Lynn Wittenburg, the Lightning’s vice president of brand management. “Our goal is to create awareness and to help fans have fun and [to sell] tickets.” According to Wittenburg, 10,000 swag bags went out in the first four days, and 1,500 tickets sold in just more than a week.

Around the league, collector items, micro-websites and beard-growing contests have become regular playoff promotional tools, as NHL teams look to use the postseason to broaden exposure and drive sales.

The Red Wings launched a website that highlights the team’s top playoff moments.
The Detroit Red Wings, which set a record for 20 consecutive playoff berths, launched a website containing video clips from the team’s top-20 playoff moments, and will feature images from the 16 best playoff moments on playoff tickets. The Vancouver Canucks, which clinched a playoff spot in mid-March, unveiled a statue of former assistant coach Roger Neilson on April 7 and distributed branded white towels emblazoned with the team’s playoff tag line, “This Is What We Live For.”

The Canucks’ sales strategy is less about tickets — the team renews season tickets in the 95 percent range and sold all available first-round playoff seats in a few hours — and instead has focused on corporate partnership. For the playoffs the Canucks have secured Save-On-Foods Pharmacy as a presenting partner, and existing partners BCLC, Rogers Media and Canadian Tire will have increased activity.

Eric Mastalir, vice president of corporate partnerships for the San Jose Sharks, said the team has historically invited new partners to activate for the playoffs with the goal of signing yearlong deals afterward. In 2009, Cache Creek Casino elevated its playoff sponsorship into a full team partnership, but 2010 playoff partner Canadian Solar did not. For 2011, the Sharks have brought on El Camino Hospital as their playoff partner.

“By the time the playoffs are here, we don’t have a lot left to sell [for the season], and we’re already thinking about renewals,” Mastalir said. “The Sharks brand is elevated on a bigger platform, so we try to expand our reach.”