Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 42


Inspired in part by the success of HBO’s “24/7” documentary series on the Winter Classic, the Montreal Canadiens have joined the select ranks of NHL clubs that provide behind-the-scenes programming offering an inside look at the team.

The goal, Montreal officials say, is to bring the Canadiens closer to current fans and, perhaps, win some new ones along the way.

“There has to be an emotional tie between the fan and the brand,” said Canadiens Chief Operating Officer Kevin Gilmore. “We never want to lose that. Creating compelling content that gives fans more access to our players is one way to forge that bond.”

Beyond HBO’s “24/7,” the Edmonton Oilers’ “Oil Change” is seen by NHL teams as a pioneer of access shows. After debuting on TSN for one season, “Oil Change” has aired on Sportsnet in 2011-12 and this season. The show, produced by Alberta-based Aquila Productions, also runs on the NHL Network.

The Pittsburgh Penguins last season created “In the Room,” which started out as six-minute inside looks at players and coaches. The segments first were shown only on the team’s website, but team rights holder Root Sports liked the footage and worked with the team on producing a half-hour show for the network. Beginning this season, NHL Network and Root Sports are both broadcasting “In The Room.”

Inside-look shows, of course, exist across sports. The NFL has had “Hard Knocks” on HBO; Major League Baseball has been involved with “The Franchise” on Showtime; and the Brooklyn Nets are currently featured in “The Association” on NBA TV. None of those league’s teams, however, has its own behind-the-scenes show.

What’s also notable among the Oilers, Penguins and now Canadiens is that these are franchises that already have large fan bases. None is desperate to sell tickets. The Canadiens’ daily media coverage far surpasses what most American NHL teams receive — and it comes in two languages. Still, Canadiens’ ownership advocated opening some doors, via video content, that usually are closed to fans.

“Growing up in Montreal, my relationship with the players was special to me,” said Canadiens owner, president and CEO Geoff Molson. “It’s important to give our fans greater access to our players and management so the fans get to know their team.”

The Canadiens’ effort, called “24CH,” focuses on footage from practices and during the team’s travels. The programming is sponsored by Bell Canada, a minority owner of the club and naming-rights sponsor of the Canadiens’ arena. It is produced by French-language broadcast partner RDS and distributed in three formats.

Alex Galchenyuk gets good news from Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin on “24CH.”
“24CH Flash,” 48 short clips — one each to run on the day of the club’s games in this abbreviated NHL season — are available in French and English on the Canadiens’ app for Bell Mobility customers. Seven-minute segments, called “24CH Weekly,” are available in French and English once a week on More than 100,000 individual users watched the debut segment in late January on the team’s website. “24CH The Series” is a package of six 30-minute episodes that will run during the season in French on RDS and in English on TSN2.

According to the Canadiens, the most-viewed segment so far included general manager Marc Bergevin informing 2012 No. 3 overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk that he made the team. The scene was shot in coach Michel Therrien’s office by a GoPro camera that was mounted on his desk.

“The Canadiens are a religion to the people of Montreal,” said Nicolas Poitras, vice president of residential services marketing at Bell. “We’re sponsoring these shows and they are delivered on our devices. People will think more highly of Bell, and we’re giving potential new consumers one more reason to choose us.”

While Bell is the primary sponsor of the shows, Gilmore said his corporate sales staff has been in discussion with potential secondary sponsors.

One key for any of the clubs doing these shows is getting the cooperation of coaches and players. In Pittsburgh, “In the Room” came after the Penguins had been featured for more than a month on “24/7” prior to the 2011 Winter Classic.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said of the HBO series. “The organization decided we didn’t want to make it a one-time thing. ... Now, ‘In The Room’ gives us a way to build on our connection with the fans.”

Veteran sports marketer Wally Hayward disclosed last week that he is leaving his position as Chicago Cubs executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer after three years to form W Partners, a joint venture with the Ricketts family, which owns the club.

W Partners will represent teams, leagues and athletes on the sell side of sponsorship sales. The Cubs will be the entity’s first client as the team pursues an aggressive renovation of Wrigley Field and a new spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., and the Ricketts family seeks to develop a boutique hotel next to Wrigley in partnership with Starwood Corp.

“I believe strongly in the Ricketts and their mission for the Cubs,” said Hayward, who was chairman and chief executive of Relay Worldwide before moving to the Cubs in 2009. “This allows me to continue to try to do great work on behalf of the Cubs but also have that entrepreneurial spirit.”

W Partners will be based in the Wrigleyville neighborhood near the ballpark. Joining Hayward in the venture will be Samantha Coghill, Cubs managing director of corporate partnerships, and Megan Cornish, a partnership coordinator. Hayward’s position with the Cubs will not be replaced, and the existing sponsorship sales group will now report to Colin Faulkner, Cubs vice president of ticket sales and service.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said, “We have big plans for Wrigley Field and in the neighborhood, and that’s why we wanted to establish W Partners and allow Wally and Samantha to focus on growing and enhancing our relationships with corporate partners and to eventually do the same for other clients.”

The marketing campaign for the Colorado Rapids’ 2013 season carries the themes “A State of Mind” and “Colorado For Life.” Ironically, the MLS club reached the decision to go with those home-based slogans after working with an agency — from Derby, England.

The Rapids last summer engaged U.K.-based creative agency Origination to develop its marketing campaign for 2013. Rapids President Tim Hinchey had worked with Origination and its managing director, David Leatt, on a similar project when Hinchey was vice president of commercial for English club Derby County FC.

“We wanted to build a brand that had the fingerprints of our club and our fans,” said Hinchey, who joined the Rapids as CMO in November 2010 and was named president 13 months later.

Leatt spent two weeks in Colorado last July. He polled three groups separately: more than 40 Rapids fans; the club’s front-office staff; and its coaches and players. The groups were asked the same five questions. Among them was one that asked about the strengths of the game of soccer; another asked about the perceived barriers for growth for the Rapids’ franchise.

Leatt started the survey by telling participants that they were holding “truth pens,” and that it was crucial to the survey’s success that they answered quickly and candidly.

When he returned to England, Leatt and four of Origination’s staffers — two marketers, one fan-engagement manager and one research analyst — distilled the answers in search of recurring themes. Among the positives: the Rapids’ pride in the community; the fact that, unlike most MLS clubs, the Rapids use a state name rather than city location as their identifier; and the team being able to establish its own identity despite being one of nine pro teams in the Denver region.

One of the team’s challenges: It plays outside downtown Denver — at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, in Commerce City — and while the distance apart is only seven miles, it has been a hindrance in business. The team also does not have a jersey sponsor, but there remains the possibility of a deal before the start of the 2013 season next month.

“We have not quite cracked the code of corporate sales,” said Hinchey, who pointed out that the Denver Broncos have dominated the market even more than usual in recent seasons. “First Tim Tebow, and now Peyton Manning,” Hinchey said, with a mixture of amusement and awe.

Leatt and his staff created a 36-page document that it delivered to Hinchey in September. Origination and Rapids staff chose “A State of Mind” and the subset “Colorado For Life” as their themes. A rollout of the campaign started in mid-January, with the new elements being incorporated in advertising and sales material. The club’s alternate jersey, expected to be unveiled later this month, also will incorporate the themes.

The Rapids’ primary jersey for this year features the names of the club’s season-ticket holders shaded onto the uniforms, a first for an MLS franchise.

In addition to its work with Derby County, Origination has created marketing programs for England’s men’s national team and for Middlesbrough FC. It also is working for the Superliga in Denmark The Rapids project is the agency’s first work in MLS.

“These themes should have longevity,” Leatt said. “By creating authenticity, if the Rapids apply the principles, they should not have to do as much marketing in the future.”

The Osage Casino was already familiar with the Tulsa Shock when its representatives went to meet with the team last June at the BOK Center.

Osage had been a partner of the franchise since 2010, but team President Steve Swetoha wanted to make certain Osage executives understood what a jersey sponsorship could bring. What he created was no ordinary pitch.

When they arrived, company executives were greeted in a suite by team owners, executives, players, coaches — and WNBA President Laurel Richie, who flew in from New York to lend a hand in the negotiations.

With Osage Casino CEO Neil Cornelius looking on, Swetoha started the show by having the arena lit up with the Osage Casino logo flashing on the arena’s LED boards and scoreboard. The casino logo was prominently placed on the hardwood below, and mock-ups of both the Shock’s home and away jerseys sporting the Osage name were on full display.

The full-court press worked. Seven months and 10 meetings later, the Shock last week announced a jersey deal with Osage that makes the franchise the seventh WNBA team to secure such an agreement.

The WNBA has a leaguewide jersey deal with Boost Mobile, as well.

“We went all out and had Laurel come in from the league,” Swetoha said. “It was the first opportunity to put in front of the partners the magnitude of the investment.”

Financial terms were not disclosed, but the value of the three-year deal is said to mirror other WNBA team jersey sponsorships, which begin at $1 million annually.

Osage has been a Shock partner since the franchise moved to Tulsa from Detroit in 2010. The Shock has struggled both on the court and at the gate since that relocation, though. Tulsa’s 9-25 record last year followed a 3-31 mark in 2011 and a 6-28 2010 season. The team also has been last in attendance in the 12-team WNBA in each of the past two years, but its 5,203 per game average last year was up 8 percent from 2011.

“The thing that struck me was their one-on-one approach,” Cornelius said of the meetings leading up to the deal. “They brought in the president of the WNBA for starters. Being a businessman, I see sales and attendance growing.”

Osage’s deal will put the casino mark on the front of the team’s jerseys and on the team’s home floor. It also provides for in-arena signage and team events at Osage casinos, of which there are seven located throughout the region.

“I always say that I am happy to participate in any way [teams] would like,” Richie said. “It can be about strategy or helping shape presentations and providing league perspective. To date, this is the most I have been involved with in terms of attending meetings.”