Ads the Kings have put on billboards around Los Angeles declare “The Time is Now,” when they could be saying, “Hey, the Lakers are locked out, come see us!”
The Ducks, meanwhile, are increasing fan-friendly initiatives and community relations programs but aren’t exchanging basketball sneakers for skates.
The NBA lockout seems a golden opportunity for NHL teams to win advertisers and woo basketball fans who have free time and unspent money. But that’s more complicated than letting everyone know the NHL is in full swing while the NBA is idle.
“Work stoppages aren’t good for any of us,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “And I get asked a lot about how we’re ‘taking advantage of an opportunity.’ The truth is, you can’t make an elaborate plan when you never know how long a work stoppage is going to last.”
There are other reasons NHL teams can’t be perceived as profiting from the misfortunes of NBA teams with whom they often share arenas and owners.
The NHL has been through two lockouts since 1994 and faces another labor negotiation next year. If the league shuts down again, NHL owners wouldn’t appreciate NBA owners using that as a marketing tool. There’s also a prevailing sense in hockey that it’s better to emphasize what’s positive about your team than the negative aspects of someone else’s troubles.
“I believe there’s an unspoken camaraderie between sports leagues,” said Aaron Teats, who oversees the Ducks’ marketing efforts as the team’s vice president of community development and multimedia.
“That doesn’t mean that our fans don’t overlap with NBA fans. I think they do. They travel in the same circles. They read the same sports pages, etc. We’ve increased our marketing budget and our spend, not necessarily knowing we want to go after Laker fans or Clipper fans, but knowing that, hey, there’s less sports being played. There’s opportunity in the marketplace for people that might have money to spend out there until that NBA situation clears up.”
Chris McGowan, the Kings’ chief operating officer, said his staff decided against specifically trying to win over Lakers or Clippers fans. Since Kings owner Philip Anschutz also owns a chunk of the Lakers, that also avoids creating a perception that the Kings are hurting one Anschutz-owned team by boosting another.
“I personally hate to use the word opportunity when it’s tied to labor issues of other leagues, especially knowing the reality of CBAs and what we went through,” McGowan said.
“Instead, because we knew that this season we would be a quality team and a contending team, as an organization we look at that as an opportunity. We’re taking advantage of what that brings to our organization.”
The Kings advertise heavily online, on billboards and on transit. McGowan said privacy issues prevent the team from using the Lakers’ or Clippers’ ticket databases to try to sell basketball fans on the virtues of hockey.
Advance ticket sales are strong enough to indicate a full season of sellouts, but McGowan attributed that to the Kings’ improvement and the off-season acquisitions of center Mike Richards and prolific winger Simon Gagne, not the lockout.
“I think the potential of seeing upticks because basketball isn’t being played are in things like group sales or event suite sales at Staples Center,” he said. “A lot of companies will buy an event suite to entertain at a game and because there’s no basketball games maybe they’ll entertain and bring in their business or their corporate hospitality event to a Kings game, or their company as a group to a Kings game.”
Teats said it’s too early to measure the lockout’s effect on the Ducks, who last played at Honda Center on Oct. 23 — before the NBA season would have started — and aren’t home again until Wednesday. Their season-ticket renewals rose to put the base above 10,000 and they have received huge responses to charity events, but Teats said those could be attributed to new policies such as varied price points and the elimination of hated ticket-purchase fees.
Minor league teams also skate a tricky line in wooing customers. A spokesman for the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals, who share the Bradley Center with the NBA’s Bucks, said his club hasn’t had lockout-related promotions. David M. Burke, president of the AHL’s Houston Aeros — who share the Toyota Center with the Rockets — said he is exploring ways to “catch the entertainment dollar of those who now have a little extra because of the NBA lockout” and hopes they will experience hockey in prime, $13 seats.
But he acknowledged die-hard basketball fans are unlikely to become puckheads.
“Our main focus will be providing the best customer service, providing the best fan experience and providing the best value for your hard-earned dollars,” he said.
The Kings are focusing on providing a good experience and attractive product to any fan, locked out or otherwise.
“We’ve had a plan for a long time to build and be ready for when we’re good,” McGowan said, “and we believe that this is really the first year when we can honestly look our fans in the eyes and say, ‘Something special is happening with the Kings,’ and organizationally how are we taking advantage of that? It just so happens that the year has occurred during a time when basketball is not playing, but that obviously wasn’t by design.”