Obviously treating the players as elite professionals is only the first step. Sports teams make money in three areas—ticket sales, merchandise, and television deals—and effort is required in all three. Before we discuss how to successfully market the Beauts in Buffalo, however, we must first determine who we’re trying to reach.
Knowing your audience—and knowing what appeals to them—is a critical component of successful marketing. According to Nielsen and Sports Business Daily, despite the fact that the Buffalo market is 52nd in the nation and only occupies .538 percent of the U.S. market share, Buffalo consistently outperforms local markets in NHL viewership. In fact, Buffalo topped local markets for all NBCSN games during the 2014-2015 season, with Boston and Pittsburgh close behind. These numbers may seem like mumbo-jumbo, but they’re proof that there is a large hockey fan market in Buffalo for the Beauts to tap into.
Perhaps more importantly, in a study of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, Sports Media Watch found that women made up between 36 and 42 percent of the viewing audience. Women are a fast-growing percentage of the hockey audience. Teams trying to grow their reach should look no further. The problem is that many teams don’t know how to market to women—rhinestone-emblazoned shirts and “Hockey And Heels” nights are pigeonholing what women hockey fans could be. A broader, and ultimately more sincere, effort is needed.
The most direct “audience” that the Beauts have, however, is the Buffalo community. Creating a strong connection with the Buffalo community will be critical to the Beauts’ success. To entrench a team in a market, you want fans to take ownership of that team—how many times have you heard a hockey fan say “Well, my team did X”? One important tool for accomplishing this in Buffalo is, I feel, creating a successful relationship with the Buffalo Sabres. Other methods will include:
- Connecting with local small businesses for sponsorship and advertisement purposes
- Offering autograph signings with Beauts’ players at various community events
- Performing community service activities—for example, each year during development camp, the Nashville Predators have a community service day where all rookies serve at places such as Room In the Inn Nashville, area YMCAs, and other charitable organizations
- Putting on local one-day hockey clinics for both boys and girls youth players, as well as potentially putting on longer camps during the offseason, and
- Making visits to local elementary and middle schools to promote initiatives such as physical fitness and character education.
The connection with the local youth hockey scene is particularly important, as the NWHL’s charitable arm, the NWHL Foundation, exists not only to help fund the league but to “promote the growth of women’s hockey” at all levels, from youth hockey on up through the ranks. The Foundation’s website notes that one of their main goals is to inspire “the daughters of tomorrow to dream bigger and aim higher than what was previously possible”.
NWHL teams interacting directly with girls’ youth and amateur teams will be key to meeting that goal, whether the interaction comes through simple meetings after games or through hockey clinics and camps. Rylan herself has noted that having that community connection is key to growing participation in the sport.
“I’m proof that grassroots works in the game of hockey,” she told ESPNW. “If the Lightning hadn’t come to town in 1992, I probably never would have played hockey and I probably wouldn’t even be on this phone call right now”.
While Buffalo’s hockey market is obviously far more established than Tampa Bay’s was when Rylan started playing, for the girls of Buffalo, having professional female athletes in their city who they can look up to as role models is new, and will only help when it comes to growing their game.
Coming up next—Marketing the Beauts, Part 3: Passion Finds a Way.