As many of you know, I’m in graduate school right now working on my MS in Sports Leadership. This summer, I took Strategic Sports Marketing, and our final project involved creating a marketing plan for a sports team or organization. Since the NWHL has had my attention from day one, I chose the Buffalo Beauts, and since I am a nerd, I decided I’d share with you guys the main points of my plan.
Today’s subject: what does the “professional” in “professional women’s hockey” mean to marketing this team, anyway?
On October 11th, 2015, the hockey world will see something entirely new—a professional women’s hockey league that pays its players dropping the puck on their inaugural season. In a professional sports team’s inaugural season, marketing is everything. With the NWHL’s four chosen markets—Buffalo, New York, Boston, and Connecticut—all being major hockey hotbeds, the groundwork has already been laid for these teams to establish a foothold in their respective areas. However, for the teams to have any kind of longevity, there is plenty of work to be done.
In an interview with ESPNW, NWHL Commissioner and New York Riveters General Manager Dani Rylan said, “These are the best athletes in the world, and we need to treat them like that. To make this as professional as possible, we want to supply them with all the necessities they need to compete at that level”.
Rylan’s point, to me, is the key component to successfully marketing the NWHL—that is, to convincing people that these women are worth their time and money. It’s almost painfully simple. If a women’s professional hockey league is to succeed, they must not only treat but also market their players as elite professionals.
This is an opportunity that I feel the NWHL has to take and run with, and one that its Canadian counterpart, the CWHL, hasn’t done.
Here’s what the CWHL got wrong, and what I would like to see the NWHL get right. For the market to view these women as elite professionals who are worth watching, the league—and the individual teams—have to make it obvious that they too view these players as elite athletes. The NWHL has a responsibility to market their players as being worthy of fans’ time and money, and in marketing it is all about the image you present.
While I admire the free access to players that the CWHL gives fans, when that easy accessibility is combined with information that has been recently publicized such as players
- having to purchase much of their own equipment
- having to sell a certain number of tickets per season, and
- having to pay a $350 fee to play in the CWHL’s playoffs for the Clarkson Cup
it adds up to create the perception that the CWHL doesn’t view its players as professionals in the same way that the NHL, AHL, or even junior leagues do.
Perception is everything. I cannot say that enough. In marketing, it is all about the image and the brand that you present to your fans. If the image you present is that you don’t value your players, you’re going to have a difficult time convincing fans to spend money on tickets or merchandise.
One of the most important things that the NWHL—and by extension, the Buffalo Beauts—can do in this first season is make it absolutely clear that they view their players as professionals. Paying these women is an important first step. The way that the NWHL presented their draft, and the way that they have been making a big deal over each player signing is, to me, another—they’re showcasing in as many ways as they can during the offseason that they value these players. I’m interested to see how they continue to market both teams and players in-season, but I think they’re off to a good start.
Coming up tomorrow—Marketing the Beauts, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo. (Okay, it’s actually “Who Is Our Market, & How Do We Reach Them”, but that sounded cooler.)