It certainly has been a long slog for the L.A. Kings to reach the national spotlight, one that still has them battling with their Staples Center co-tenants the Lakers and the Clippers, as well as the currently struggling but still popular Angels and the newly reborn by ownership Dodgers for the attention of the sometimes fleeting and always busy casual sports fan in Southern California. For the hockey fan, except for the style of Rogie Vachon and Marcel Dionne in the 1970’s and Wayne Gretzky’s short lived but effective run later, the Kings have always been somewhat of a late night afterthought for most of North America.
However as this year’s club moves closer to the Stanley Cup Finals and a trip to either New York or close to Manhattan (New Jersey), the Kings have positioned themselves off the ice for mainstream and social success.
Off the ice, the longtime cultivation of tastemakers in Hollywood, led by producer and season ticketholder Jerry Bruckheimer has led to a passionate concentrated but solid following in entertainments influencer circle. The group, put together by Kings legend turned president of business operations Luc Robitalle several seasons ago, was made up of execs with an interest in the game who, when needed, would turn a favor for the team. Whether that was helping coax stars like Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks to the Staples Center, or providing thoughts on in-game entertainment, was determined by what was comfortable. It was not heavy handed, but it certainly became very effective as the teams on ice fortunes rose over the past few seasons, and requests from the Kings to their “friends” turned to requests from their friends to the team on how they could help. Like in New York and for the Lakers, drive-by’s for celebs on location in L.A. now included the Kings, a must-be-seen spot moving towards the level of the Knicks celebrity seats or the front row for Kobe and Company.
Also into that mix went the aggressive cultivation of local media, bloggers and others interested in getting access to the Kings, the players and their front office, all with the hope of garnering good will through access for when the sunny days on the ice matched the beautiful weather outside. While many teams still remain skittish about the blogosphere, the Kings saw an opportunity and grew a following.
The team also went to great lengths to acknowledge and then aggressively use the social media space to grow its footprint, especially as interest in the on-ice performance picked up as the 2011-12 season went along. As Chris Botta highlighted in this week’s Sports Business Journal, the team has made a sometimes edgy but always entertaining investment in engaging not just their fans, but hockey and sports fans in general, with the news and insight coming off their twitter feed and on to other areas of social media. It is not heavy on tech, it is fun, and has made the Kings grow their following to over 100,000 since the start of the playoffs.
Of course the real fruits of all this work lay ahead, with the potential of the Stanley Cup finals, an NHL title, and then increased marketing and sales opportunities for next year and beyond. L.A. also remains an uber-competitive marketplace with fickle fans being pulled in many directions, so converting the casual into the consistent is a challenge for everyone.
However what makes the opportunity of today real is the consistent legwork the team put into doing all the little things over the past few seasons. There was no instant payoff, and the cultivation had to be both strategic and consistent with no real 100 pct. Chance of an ROI. It isn’t like cultivating a sponsor who suddenly walks in with a big check. The payoff comes sometimes in immeasurable little wins. A gift to a studio head’s son here, an autographed puck or jersey to a blogger charity there, a thank you to a group of twitter followers through a promotion another time. Slow and steady is the build, but when the payoff of that work is matched on the ice, the team is in a position to reap the rewards.
Some may think planning for a sunny day in L.A. is easy. In the Kings case it probably wasn’t that easy, but now that it is here, they can enjoy the glow.