Majoring In The Minors, Hockey Style

Anyone who has ever been around minor league hockey knows that the challenge to fill seats can be even more daunting than for the toughest minor league baseball teams. Baseball is all about sun and fun and a family experience in the inexpensive rite of summer. Hockey is indoors, in the winter many times in markets where the sport was imported and has not been a part of the culture for a long period of time.

For sure there are exceptions…Kalamazoo, Hershey, Syracuse…but for the most part minor league hockey is more about the action and the moment than about the passed on storied traditions of its summer cousin. That probably means that minor league hockey promoter probably have to be a little more edgy and a little more adult focused to grab the attention of a crowded winter calendar for the casual fan. The good thing is that most teams, even more than baseball, are really adept at social and digital media, and usually control their own rights and content (most of minor league baseball’s rights are now controlled by  So there are less impediments to taking to the digital space for sometimes racy and often times  creative spur of the moment instances. From fights to people with a few too many to drink in the stands, minor league hockey is more about the edge to put butts in seats than it is about the wholesome. Even with all that in mind, the minors does deliver its share of the creative, here are a few recent ones.

Crunching The Billboards: The Syracuse Crunch of the AHL are always one of the more original clubs in finding ways to draw attention. In the fall, they ran some suggestive billboards with the attractive Carol Grow, replete with call in number. The promotion drew some fire from groups, but it got the team ink. How did they top it? In January, they took the same concept, and dropped veteran bearded winger   Eric Neilson into the “call for a good time” ad. The team got a double bounce on the exposure, showed they were more than willing to have some fun at their own expense, and also showed they were being responsive to the community….the idea of the male player on the board actually came from a female fan.  Smart all around move for a Central New York team that knows its market.

What Happens In Vegas:  The ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers are another franchise who knows its clients, especially in Sin City. While they don’t really cater to the tourists in the casino’s, they do know what will catch the attention of a veteran Nevadan. So what did they do?  They staged “Over 18 Night,” where the players went  “topless.” Well not really.

The team actually came up with a jersey design which had the guys done uniforms come complete with drawn on abs and nipples.  The night was replete with risqué promotions, and the jerseys went for charity on the clubs site after the game.  Bo blood, no nakedness, but lots of fun for the fans for a night off the strip.

The Condors Fly With Exposure:  Another club that always seems to find its way into the headlines for its promotions is the Bakersfield Condors are another ECHL club looking for an edge. They promote themselves as number one in family entertainment and tout the large amount of money they have raised for charity, but they are always known for some fun promotions like their Charlie Sheen Night a few seasons ago.

This year the team had their mascot come ice side, along with a real condor and its handler, for a little fun fly by to promote the values of the rare bird and the team. However the bird’s handler slipped on the ice, and said Condor got loose, flying round the arena and setting off a viral video stream that went global. The team found a way to get the video out as well, especially when there were no injuries as a result of the incident, but they did get an added publicity boost…from PETA.

Being good Californians, PETA saw the video, and immediately went to the aid of the distressed bird and its handler, even issuing a statement about the incident far and wide to an even bigger audience than those who saw the viral video or had ever heard of the Bakersfield Condors.  PETA asked the team to ban live animals from its games and basically stick with the mascot…which of course can give the team a whole new set of promotions in the future. Sometimes the best exposure come from the spur of the moment, and the Condors found a way to make some chicken salad out of a challenging situation.

So while the three promos may not fit in minor league baseball, at least with affiliated clubs, they did raise the attention and the interest during  long hockey winter for a trio of promoters that understand their markets and how to attract visibility, and the casual fan.