Random Theme Nights: More Harmful than Helpful in #GrowTheGame Efforts

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Mascots may be a team’s biggest marketing tool, yet it is the way in which each home game is promoted that could deeply impact fan development efforts in a city. Pictured here is Audie of the AHL’s Utica Comets. (Photo by Nicole Sorce)

ITHACA, N.Y. – With the release 2017-18 schedules (wow, that year span was weird to type), sales offices across the world are currently buzzing with preseason planning.

Unfortunately, true hockey lovers only have a limited amount of time to take in the fresh schedules before they become littered with theme nights and promotions that, at the end of the day, have absolutely nothing to do with the team, league, or sport of hockey.

Now, I know some of you will disagree with me. After all, some teams are so broke most of the time that they can’t let the opportunity to sell an extra thousand or so tickets go to waste. And sure, certain theme nights are “great” for the kids.

However, we should all be embarrassed that efforts to fill our barns have come to this.

Sales and marketing departments have seemingly gone so far away from the game that attending the Calder Cup and Kelly Cup playoffs this spring was was highly refreshing: too short notice for pointless intermission games or forced theme nights to attract certain groups, and everyone in attendance was obviously there for the hockey.

The rest of the year, however, is a different story. Frankly, have we forgotten what we are actually selling?!

Let’s get back to the basics. We need to sell the game with tools that will help outsiders understand why hockey is the greatest sport in existence and why they need to be a part of this EVERY night, not just one game per season because they got cheap tickets with their friends who hate hockey but love Star Wars.

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Chuck-a-Puck is probably the most common in-game promotion in the sport, and I actually approve of it because it is RELEVANT! (Photo by Nicole Sorce)

(For argument’s sake, let’s use “Star Wars Night” as the example throughout.)

Honestly, it’s embarrassing that we have to stoop so low as to even CONSIDER throwing a Star Wars Night. Cancer awareness and patriotic theme nights here and there are one thing. This other stuff is just not okay.

It’s desperate, for one, and considering how much it actually costs to put on a night like this, is it even worth the one larger-than-average crowd to miss real opportunities to educate potential season ticket holders on the sport itself, the history of hockey in their town, and the intensity of the game that becomes so addicting they’ll need season tickets?!

I’m after those people: the ones who will fall in love with the GAME, buy a ticket plan for their family or company, and enjoy the sport so much that they’ll want to organize group outings for every friend or family member’s birthday, anniversary, or promotion. And you all should be after them, too.

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Last season’s highly promoted Superheroes Night at the Elmira Jackals was still minimally attended. (Photo by Nicole Sorce)

Forget the sponsors who will only sign onto pointless theme nights like Star Wars. Find the ones who geniunely wish to represent the hockey development efforts of the team in the community rather than those who only care that “Star Wars Night at (Team Name Here)” has their logo all over it.

Somebody please tell me –  what does Star Wars have to do with hockey at all?!

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!!!!!!!

Pointless. What a waste of time and energy! Other useless examples include:

  • Pregame or intermission broomball matches (Like, are we serious? Isn’t that a made up Harry Potter thing?)
  • People fighting each other with giant cotton swabs on the ice during intermission (This must be what happens when people in the front office run out of ideas…)
  • Ghostbusters Night (This one may be “great” for the kids… however, I just don’t see it. Maybe instead of scaring the children with the idea that ghosts exist, let’s actually teach them about one of the most major sports in the world WHILE THEY ARE AT A LIVE GAME.)
  • Asparagus Night (Enough said.)

Sure, some of these teams have received weird forms of high praise for their non-hockey-themed theme nights. Yet as somebody who truly understands the #saucelife, I can’t get behind attracting people to hockey games by bribing them with something completely irrelevant to the sport. Have some respect!

Here is what we really need more of:

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The ECHL sent the Kelly Cup on a league-wide road trip last season, a promotion that both educated fans about the league and sparked interest of the history of the sport in their city. (Photo by Nicole Sorce)

  • Regular skate-with-the-team nights that are not solely reserved for season ticket holders
  • Hockey 101 Night, Learn to Skate Night, #GrowTheGame Night, etc.
  • Autograph sessions with hockey legends (who, by the way, really need to get off their pedestals and lower their prices for appearances in this regard. Help develop fans in America and give these financially barren teams a break, damn it.)
  • YOUTH HOCKEY INTERMISSION GAMES!!! (In a fan survey conducted by the Portland Pirates in 2014-15, 73% of fans wished there were youth hockey skates every night.)
  • Hometown appreciation nights that celebrate the history of the arena, city, and its team!
  • Live look-ins of other games taking place during time-outs or intermissions (Let’s show the first-timers in the crowd how big and vast the world of hockey truly is!)
  • The list goes on and on… I won’t bore you with all of my ideas.

A home team is given 38 games at their arena, and depending on the league, that number may fluctuate slightly. The way I see it, you have 5-8 games that are basically required: Opening Night, Military Appreciation Night, 2-3 cancer/disease awareness nights (Pink in the Rink, etc.), Season Ticket Holder Appreciation Night, and Fan Appreciation Night.

The other 30(ish) are fair game for teams to promote whatever they wish. I’m begging all of you in positions of power – PLEASE STICK TO HOCKEY!!!

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During my Portland Pirates days, my youth hockey-related sales efforts were among the most successful group ticket events in the entire office, and perhaps the most vital to developing hockey fans in Maine. (Photo by Nicole Sorce)

Group sales efforts that go into non-hockey theme nights may seem like the only method to financial survival, but instead of simply selling a ticket, you also need to be selling the team and sport itself. We cannot ignore our duties to educate potential ticket plan holders about the game on the ice, the league which the team plays in, and the exceptional level of talent that is housed in the affiliate leagues.

With the increase of season ticket and mini plan holders, a team will also see an increase in group sales. It is a longer process, but those sales will come. There is a certain level of psychology that goes into sales that cannot be ignored, and people are more likely to purchase a product that they feel like they truly need or can’t go without. Expose these fans to this side of the game! Make them need it!

Once fans fall in love with the game and become addicted, they’ll want to share their new passion with everyone they know. This is when unsolicited sales for group rates will come in, and the potential to develop even more meaningful relationships with these fans and new ones will pay off much more in the long run.

In my honest opinion, if it’s not a hockey-related theme night, it’s a waste and highly disrespectful to the sport itself. Hopefully an increase in theme nights that promote hockey development will assist teams in every league and city in selling out their arenas on a more consistent basis more than one slightly larger crowd every season at Star Wars Night.

What are some of the more ridiculous theme nights you’ve seen at the rink? Leave a comment below or tweet me @nicolesorce! I would love to hear from you.

The fans at Utica Memorial Auditorium are infamous for how much passion they have for their Utica Comets and the game of hockey in Utica, New York. (Video by Nicole Sorce)