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Volume 21 No. 34
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Canadiens’ Club 1909 rewards fans around the globe

The Montreal Canadiens ended their 2014-15 regular season the same way they have every year for the past decade: selling out every home game.

That fact was in mind when the team in October launched its Club 1909 fan program, an initiative to try to unite the team’s fans from around the globe and something that Canadiens executive Kevin Gilmore said has become a quick success.

“A lot of teams now have a loyalty program, and it’s typically an added value to season-ticket holders,” said Gilmore, executive vice president and

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chief operating officer in Montreal. “While we wanted to have a program that rewarded those fans, we also realize we haven’t been able to sell additional tickets for quite some time, so we wanted to make a program that didn’t require you to spend any money to gain points as well as allow anyone from our global fan base to join.”

With its first season complete, Club 1909, which draws its name from Montreal’s debut season in the NHL, has more than 116,000 fans signed up, and the team saw an average membership growth rate of 15 percent per month (excluding the launch month). While the membership base remains mostly Canadian-centric, with about 93 percent of the total membership calling Canada home, the club has about 4 percent American members, followed by contingents from France, Switzerland, Australia, England and Germany, Gilmore said.

The program rewards fans with points for interacting with the team in different ways, from attending games in person to watching on television or even just sharing team-related hashtags and messages on Twitter. Each interaction is valued differently, with some of the social media and at-home viewing interactions providing more points than attending games or in-arena spending. The points can be redeemed for various prizes and memorabilia, as well as used at auction for larger, one-of-a-kind experiences such as behind-the-scenes tours or rinkside seats.

“We spent some time trying to understand what our brand represented,” Gilmore said. “We’ve always done a good job marketing ourselves locally, but we feel that the Canadiens are as synonymous with hockey as the Yankees are with baseball, or the Cowboys are with football. We considered ourselves a global brand, but we never acted like one, so we’ve tried to take the fan experience outside the four walls of the Bell Centre.”

The Canadiens have been sold out at the Bell Centre for a decade. Club 1909 aims to give fans ways to engage from outside the arena and even outside of Montreal.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Dino Di Pancrazio, vice president of marketing with the Canadiens, said Club 1909 has helped the team build out its business in several areas. The club has given Montreal a means for upsells with existing sponsors. It’s also brought the team revenue in the form of fans’ premium membership fees, and it’s served as an additional vehicle to market Canadiens merchandise.

“The design of the program would have been likely different if we had other issues, like we were still trying to put butts in seats,” Di Pancrazio said. “But in our case, our objective is to broaden the potential user and go very, very wide.”

Di Pancrazio, who previously worked at loyalty marketing firm LoyaltyOne in Canada, said the program is also helping to provide the Canadiens with a more updated, and deeper, database of the team’s fans and their activity.

The club is free to join, but fans can upgrade to premium status for $30. Season-ticket holders get premium status for free. With the premium membership, fans receive an RFID-tagged membership card. About 10 percent of current subscribers are premium members.

The team worked with U.K.-based Fortress GB on the technology behind the program. The company counts more than 125 pro sports teams as clients, including Manchester United and Arsenal FC. It has also worked with a number of U.S. teams.

Current Canadiens partners Molson and Ford have sponsored certain elements of Club 1909, Gilmore said. For example, Ford sponsored a campaign that let club members record their own “Go Habs Go” chant, with those submissions then played at the Bell Centre on game nights. On the merchandise front, Gilmore said the program has enabled the team to do things like target fans who follow defender P.K. Subban on Twitter with a limited-edition hat with his number, or provide fans with early access to playoff merchandise.

Di Pancrazio said the program is aiming for 500,000 subscribers by the end of its third year, with the team estimating it has more than 10 million fans around the globe. It’s the courting of those fans from afar that often can raise issues for NHL teams due to the league’s radius restrictions on marketing. Susan Cohig, NHL senior vice president of integrated marketing, said that for all teams and their loyalty programs, strict restrictions are placed on how the clubs are able to activate against local partners and expand their reach globally. Still, she said, being able to further connect with fans both locally and globally through programs like Club 1909 in Montreal is a boon to both the league and to the individuals teams.

“With our NHL digital channels, we like to say we are shortening the path to fandom, and it’s the same thing with the teams and efforts like this,” Cohig said.

Gilmore said Montreal has been in contact with the league as it has built out Club 1909 to ensure it does not stray outside league guidelines.

“We’re taking the long-tail approach with the program and not expecting something that is going to generate ‘X’ in year one or two but really just help build a solid base of fans around the globe,” Gilmore said.