Hockey

New owner, new players, new coach. How Canes plan to sell those changes to fans.

Carolina Hurricanes rookies Andrei Svechnikov, left, and Martin Necas will be competing for spots among the top forwards in 2018 preseason training camp.
Carolina Hurricanes rookies Andrei Svechnikov, left, and Martin Necas will be competing for spots among the top forwards in 2018 preseason training camp. calexander@newsobserver.com

The “Redvolution” is ending, its purpose served.

For the Carolina Hurricanes, make way for “Take Warning.” Expect to see it in promotions, time and again.

The Hurricanes have a new owner. They have a new head coach and assistant coaches. They will have a new look to their team roster when the 2018-19 season begins.

And a new marketing slogan.

“We knew we’d be pivoting away from ‘Redvolution’ toward the end of last season, when we knew we would not make the playoffs,” said Mike Forman, the Canes’ senior director of marketing and brand strategy. “It had a good run. To live three years as a marketing slogan, used by media, the players, by fans, we were really pleased with the campaign. But we thought it had run its course.”

“Take Warning” initially was to be used in introducing the Canes’ new alternate jersey on June 22, when the team hosted an NHL Draft night party at Raleigh Beer Garden. Forman said the team was going to market game nights in which the Canes wore the black alternate jerseys — including 11 Fridays this season — as “Take Warning” nights.

“We used it with the (jersey) teaser to gauge the fan feedback on it,” Forman said.

Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling takes questions from young hockey campers during an appearance at Raleigh Center Ice on July 24, 2018. Darling later went on the ice to work with the goalies at the camp.

The feedback was strongly positive. As Forman put it, there is an “ominous” feel to it — the Canes also used “New Storm” on the jersey video tease.

The Canes had a new chief marketing slogan. “We think we found a winner,” Forman said.

Forman said it was a collaborative effort but credits Dan LaTorraca with “tossing out the idea.” LaTorraca is new, too, having been hired as the team’s director of digital marketing after working for the Carolina Panthers and Brooklyn Nets.

The Hurricanes had the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft after being the biggest winner in the draft lottery, and while owner Tom Dundon and management were ecstatic, the same was true for the team’s marketing people.

Forman said Dundon and general manager Don Waddell quickly settled on Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov as the Canes’ first-round selection, giving the marketing staff a nice headstart for the draft in Dallas.

“We were able to build out video clips, had posters available, jerseys with nameplates,” Forman said. “We knew what number he’d have ahead of time (No. 37). Andrei was in town a few weeks early for a quick photo shoot, video shoot.

“It was great to get so much in advance. It’s awesome they’d be so open with us and trust us that we wouldn’t tell anybody what’s going on. We had it all ready to go.”

The team held its annual Summerfest Celebration the week after the draft, in conjunction with its prospect development camp. Posters featuring Svechnikov were scattered about PNC Arena — “This Seat Could be Yours!” — and the first 37 fans to buy full season tickets were promised a puck signed “by #37 himself.”

After missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for nine consecutive years, the longest playoff drought in the league, the Canes are marketing youth and hope. The team is banking that young established players such as forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, with prospects such as Svechnikov and 19-year-old center Martin Necas, give its fans optimism about the future.

“There are so many new components with the team now with the new owner and new players. It’s a new day,” said Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. “It makes all the sense in the world for them to have a new marketing campaign.”

Jonathan Jensen, an assistant professor of sport administration at UNC, called it smart marketing.

“When you’ve gone nine straight years without making the playoffs, there’s not a lot to lean on,” said Jensen, a former sports marketing executive. “I’m sure they’ve done an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses, and what can they can leverage moving forward. Youth, hope and with the growth that’s going on in Wake County and in Raleigh ... it all makes a lot of sense.”

Jensen said there’s data that 50 new people are moving into Wake County each day, many perhaps lured by the high rankings the area has received for livability and business. For the Canes, that’s an influx of potential new customers and fans.

“Whatever perception people may have had about the Hurricanes — ‘Oh, they’re not winning, they’re not innovative’ — those things may not matter as much with so many people getting introduced to the brand for the first time,” Jensen said. “I think it’s an exciting time for the team. A million more people in Wake County in 10 years? The Hurricanes have that growth, so it’s a matter of introducing those newcomers to the area to the brand.”

And embracing an old franchise brand — the Hartford Whalers. The Canes still have plans to have a retro night at PNC Arena and wear the iconic Whalers jerseys if approved by the league. Under former majority owner Peter Karmanos, who moved the team from Hartford, Conn., in 1997, that would not have happened. Dundon wants it.

“Sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich and saying, ‘Oh, we once were the Hartford Whalers but we’re going to forget that ever happened,’ that’s really not smart,” Jensen said. “It makes no sense to throw away all that history.

“Particularly since (Dundon) doesn’t come from hockey and doesn’t come from professional sports, it seems like they’ve been a lot more innovative and lot more willing to take chances.”

When the franchise first came to North Carolina the brand was a new one — the renamed Carolina Hurricanes. A strong dose of traditional advertising and marketing helped build the brand, in the area and in the state, but so did winning.

In the first 12 seasons the team was in Raleigh, after two seasons in Greensboro, the Canes won the 2006 Stanley Cup, played in two Stanley Cup finals (2002, 2006) and reached the Eastern Conference finals (2009) while hosting the 2011 NHL All-Star Game and 2004 NHL Draft. The exposure, for the team and the Triangle, was widespread.

“I think a lot of the brand has to do, going back a bit, on the crowds and the noise in the building and the tailgating and most importantly a Stanley Cup championship and two Stanley Cup finals appearances,” Dupree said. “I think that’s still at the core of the brand nationally. They did enough good things and great things from 1997 to 2009 to establish the brand of a vibrant, winning professional sports franchise in the South and in Raleigh in particular.

“I think that’s still there but obviously not as strong as it was 10 years ago and they have work to do ... but the base and the foundation is still there. I think it’s very realistic to get back to that level of national awareness and national brand recognition that they may have lost over the last nine or 10 years. Marketing is important but winning is more important.”

svechnikovscreenshot
The Carolina Hurricanes have a new marketing slogan and a new star, 2018 first-round draft pick Andrei Svechnikov, to promote in marketing. Carolina Hurricanes

When Waddell, the former president and GM of the Atlanta Thrashers, was brought in as team president in 2014, he said he was pleasantly surprised to find the Hurricanes brand to be strong. But a big part of his job is filling the seats at PNC Arena, and the Canes’ inability to reach the playoffs has been a challenge.

“The brand was strong,” Waddell said last week. “Every place I went, everybody knew about the Hurricanes but we had lost connection with the community. But I think we’ve done a good job in reaching out to the community.”

Waddell noted paid attendance increased $3.5 million last season despite not making the playoffs.

One saving grace the past nine years: the rise of social media. The Canes use their social media platforms to directly connect with their fans. Their main Twitter account — @nhlcanes — has 355,000 followers and their Instagram account 186,000.

“With social, there is no salary floor, no salary ceiling,” Forman said. “You can compete with anyone on social. if you engage with your fans it doesn’t matter if it’s the Hurricanes or Toronto Maple Leafs. You can build a phenomenal social brand, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Looking to the 2018-19 season, Forman said the team may again offer a “Canes Pass,” although no firm decision has been made. After Dundon became majority owner in January, the “Canes Pass” was introduced, allowing fans to pay $97 to attend as many as nine home games in February. The team then extended the promotion into March and April.

Forman said 850 passes were sold in February and that several fans have become season-ticket holders.

The Canes will continue the College Colors Night, offering caps with the Canes logo and a college logo. The N.C. State and East Carolina promotions sold out last year and the Duke and UNC promotions were close to sellouts, Forman said, and the Hurricanes could add such schools as Appalachian State, UNC Charlotte and UNC Greensboro this season.

An early promotion will be Aug. 23, when the Hurricanes and Durham Bulls team up for Hockey Night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The Bulls will wear jerseys and caps patterned after the Canes jersey.

“The fact we’ve been able to build this brand and our (social media) follower base and the engagement we have, without a playoff appearance, gets all of us excited,” Forman said. “If we can do that now, what’s going to happen when we are in the playoffs? With so many eyes on us, I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with it.”

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