I’ve mentioned the strong PR and marketing efforts by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference in the past. Today, I want to comment on the impressive efforts by the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference. In November 2007, Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach and around the same time, the Caps’ marketing came up with a new marketing strategy for the 2007-2008 playoffs. According to Nate Ewell, the team’s spokesman, they rejected the slogan “Caps for the Cup” because it seemed “overconfident for a team that wasn’t a shoo-in.” After more deliberation, the marketing department decided on “Rock the Red” for their new strategy and it has really paid off.
On Frozen Blog, a popular Capitals blog, talked to Tim McDermott, the Capitals’ Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, about the slogan and its origins. While I would recommend reading the entire post about the process, here are a couple points I found particularly interesting.
“It is who we are now, it’s ingrained in our brand identity,” Tim McDermott told me this week. “‘Rock the Red’ is symbolic of the experience at Caps’ games, symbolic of the type of game we play, symbolic of the team’s youth and an electric sense about the team,” he added. …
“We wanted something fun, electric, something emblematic of cool, young players.”
The Caps wanted to come up with a slogan/strategy that was not only unique and authentic, but a branding campaign that would work for teachers decorating their classroom during the playoffs or fans hosting viewing parties at their houses or how it could look at a pep rally or on a college campus. So both the marketing and communications department sat down and tossed around ideas for hours. They had to consider how the slogan would look in ads, merchandise, the arena, and the logo.
After making the playoffs last season and advancing to the conference semifinals, the Caps have seen an increase in sales. According to the Washington Business Journal, there has been a 151% increase in merchandise sales, the second-highest in the NHL behind only the Blackhawks. Ticket sales have also been boosted with 4,000 new season ticket holders.
Ewell said the Caps became convinced of their Rock The Red campaign’s effectiveness after an online marketing effort got nearly an entire stadium to wear red for the season’s final games. All five of the top-selling merchandise items in 2007-08 featured the slogan, McDermott said.
McDermott believes the success is because the “Rock the Red” campaign has truly resonated with the fan base. In fact, the team is in the process of trademarking the phrase because of its success.
“The success we’ve had with ‘Rock the Red’ is a testament to the fans — they’re the ones who made this great,” McDermott said. “The Fan Club created signs it hung at games, the fans bought the merchandise, and of course, you had that opening playoff game image against Philadelphia, that Sea of Red.”
“The beauty of our campaign is it allows us to tweak the message but retain the core message,” McDermott pointed out. “You want something that is yours, but something that is not based on team performance, on something that you can’t deliver on a given night.”
The Capitals also have teamed up with Comcast to create an original 30-minute television show called “Capitals RED TV.” The team partnered up with Starbridge Media and Comcast SportsNet. The Caps and Starbridge will pay for the production costs and split the show revenue while Comcast gets a minute of the eight minutes of commercials for each show. Comcast will promote the show 20 times per week as well as a rotating banner for the show on its homepage. Fans will also be able to catch it on demand.
So what will fans be able to catch during these 20 episodes? At least eight segments that can be used online as well as in the Verizon Center. If the program is deemed successful, the team will increase its presence on television with more episodes.
“Attendance, ratings, everything is trending up right now, so we think this is the time to try something like this,” said Tim McDermott, the Capitals’ chief marketing officer. “At a minimum, this becomes a great advertisement for us. Hopefully, it’s something that becomes a profitable venture for us.”
Finally, the Caps now have a media relations blog entitled Welcome to the Show, which is a great read for those in sports PR. Not only does the blog point out interesting news articles that we may have missed otherwise, but it lets us in on interviews that they’ve conducted recently or activities they’ve had to do as part of their jobs. I love the idea of this blog. Nice work Caps!
Thanks to former Procter & Gamble brand manager Darcy Raymond, the Tampa Bay Rays have been given a makeover this season and it appears to be working. He has used P&G brand mantras like the five critical brand pillars and other philosophies to help turn the team brand around.
So what changes did they make? First, they removed Devil from the team name and created a new logo including a color change (from green to blue). The team then used focus-group research to make a list of 30 consumer touch points that they can use to measure consumer satisfaction (known as fan experience in the sport business). As the VP of branding and fan experience, measuring the consumer’s satisfaction is crucial so these touch points are essential to his work. It also doesn’t hurt that the team has made a significant jump in the MLB standings. After finishing last in the league, the team improved largely thanks to the efforts of its young players and made the playoffs.
Rays executives said past “worst-to-first” teams have also experienced a one-year lag effect between when a team improves dramatically and when ticket sales follow suit. “With consumer package goods, you can pretty much dictate everything about the product,” said Darcy Raymond, the team’s VP-branding and fan experience, who joined the franchise as a consultant in 2006, shortly after it was acquired by former Goldman Sachs managing partner Stuart Sternberg. “But in this world, the media controls so much of what gets said, so it’s a little different.”
Sports and politics are known for generating passion in its fans and even the reporters themselves. Unlike most brands, teams have fans that are willing to paint themselves for games and even get tattoos with the team’s logo. As a result, it is certainly a lot harder to have a say in the discourse about your brand. From a PR perspective, I would suggest that the team continues to reach out to publications like Advertising Age to get coverage on this change in brand image resulting in increased business sales. Publications such as BrandWeek and Sports Business Journal may be interested outlets.