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Volume 20 No. 42
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Draft gives Penguins another way to market

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, recent on-ice success has meant a season-ticket waiting list of more than 9,000 accounts. Since each hopeful fan is required to place a one-time deposit of $200 to be on the list, the team has added close to $2 million in revenue from the group.

The Penguins hope to carry Pittsburgh’s excitement for the club on the ice to the city’s streets for the draft.
But despite those and other metrics, having little to prove on or off the ice, the Penguins still view the opportunity to host next week’s 2012 NHL draft as a showcase for the franchise, the league, Consol Energy Center and the city of Pittsburgh.

“The best time to market,” said Penguins President David Morehouse, “is while you’re having great success.”

Although the draft takes place June 22-23, the Penguins are producing a weeklong extravaganza.

Crons, the Pittsburgh-based athletic apparel company, is the presenting sponsor of a Penguins youth hockey camp that will be visited by several of the top prospects in this year’s draft, including the presumptive No. 1 pick, Nail Yakupov. Sessions with recently drafted players from the Pittsburgh area, including the New York Rangers’ J.T. Miller and Chicago’s Brandon Saad, will bring a local flavor to the camp.

In addition, there will be a Penguins Draft Fan Fest; Morehouse said a presenting sponsor is expected to sign on later this week. Artificial ice will be set up outside Consol Energy Center for skating and youth hockey games. Media availability for draft prospects will take place on one of the Gateway Clipper’s riverboats that cruises the city’s three rivers. After their interviews, the prospects will be dropped off at PNC Park, where they will take batting practice with the MLB Pirates.

The NHL draft, while not at the level of the Winter Classic or All-Star Game, is still a strong opportunity for the league and the host team to activate with its sponsors during the offseason. Previous drafts, such as the one last year in Minnesota, have always featured events in the day or two prior — but not to the extent the Penguins are producing, and not as city-centric.

“The best time to market is while you’re having great success,” says team President David Morehouse.
“We really want to make this a Pittsburgh event,” Morehouse said.

Two days before the draft, the top prospects will join local youngsters in a street hockey game played on the Sixth Street Bridge (also known as the Roberto Clemente Bridge). The game will serve as a celebration of sorts of the Penguins’ enormously successful youth hockey programs sponsored by Pittsburgh-based Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“Dick’s had a desire to be involved at an elite level with equipment for team sports,” said David Peart, Penguins senior vice president of sales and service. “Their support of youth hockey in the region has been extraordinary.”

Dick’s has a long-term sponsorship with the team as one of eight founding partners of Consol Energy Center. The others are Verizon, American Eagle, Trib Total Media, PNC Wealth Management, Highmark, UPMC and FedEx.

At the draft, the founding partners’ “landmark” aspects will be seen in full view at the arena. For example, PNC is the title sponsor of the arena’s premium suite level.

Besides full integration with the Penguins — including a suite, logo usage and naming rights to the box office — Dick’s sponsors three hockey development initiatives, with more on the horizon, according to Peart. The Assist program provides free floor hockey equipment to all 290 elementary schools in Allegheny County to be used as part of the schools’ physical education curriculum. The Sidney Crosby Little Penguins program provides full sets of ice hockey equipment to 1,000 children ages 5 to 7 — who are fitted and pick up their skates, sticks and pads at Dick’s — along with 10 on-ice lessons. The Penguins this year also began supporting their own elite-level youth hockey program, featuring eight teams of boys and five of girls.

“We see great value in partnering with the Penguins,” said Dick’s Sporting Goods President and COO Joe Schmidt. “The Penguins’ recent on-ice success has dramatically increased the interest in hockey in Western PA, and we are proud to work with them to develop the sport at the highest level.”

Along with the development of the team as a perennial contender for the Stanley Cup, the marketing by Morehouse’s staff has borne remarkable results. The Penguins have sold out their last 254 games, and they led all U.S.-based NHL teams this season in local TV ratings. According to league data, they rank No. 1 in revenue generated among U.S. NHL franchises from a single-tenant building.

Not bad for a sports team in America’s 23rd-largest television market.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to engage fans,” Morehouse said. “We’re proud of our success, but the work never ends when you’re deepening the brand of the Penguins and the NHL.”