Hockey fans will notice a significant new addition to the National Hockey League’s regular season this October. It will begin with 31 clubs and feature its latest expansion franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, making its debut. Not only does this continue the NHL’s obsession with expanding into non-traditional hockey markets, but it also marks the first professional sports team to declare the Las Vegas metropolitan area its home. The Las Vegas Raiders will be the second team, officially kicking off in Sin City during the 2020 National Football League season.
The Golden Knights’ PR department has the unique challenge of connecting with fans in a market where there has never been a major professional sport to call its own. Leading up to the official launch of the team, they have already managed to establish an identity for themselves in the media, with owner Bill Foley and General Manager George McPhee making themselves readily available to reporters and sports writers for comments. As the team gears up to take the ice this fall, let’s examine some PR lessons we can learn from the launch of pro hockey in the desert.
Lesson 1: Think Outside the Box
The NHL has pursued professional hockey in non-traditional markets for about twenty years now. We now see teams in warm weather regions like the Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, and the Dallas Stars. While each team has had its own level of measurable success in its respective market, the NHL has never shied away from their belief that hockey is a sport everyone can enjoy, even in climates where an outdoor ice rink would melt. Where many would not see a connection between hockey in the Arizona desert or pucks flying at nets in South Florida, the league is clearly not afraid to take a gamble on their product and test it. This is no different for them establishing another “hockey in the desert” team like the Vegas Golden Knights. Bringing a team to an unproven market is a big gamble, but there couldn’t be a better market to roll the figurative dice.
In the same way the NHL has boldly stepped into these territories, explore how the content you’re producing can be used in places beyond the traditional markets or industries you normally target. Could your products provide solutions to businesses that are beyond the usual customer base? Can your content be repurposed into videos or bylined articles? Think of your content as more of an ongoing idea rather than a one-off project and you might be surprised at the opportunities you can generate.
Lesson 2: Surround Yourself with the Best Team Possible
The Golden Knights are already on the right track, as far as the team leadership goes. They hired former Washington Capitals GM and ex-New York Islanders VP George McPhee to take on the role of General Manager once again. McPhee, who is perhaps best known for drafting Capitals superstar and seven time 50-plus goal scorer Alex Ovechkin, has an established track record. His hiring comes with experience. Similarly, they also named Gerard Gallant as the team’s first head coach. Gallant, best known as the former head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers, brings six seasons of head coaching experience to the team. It’s also worth noting Gallant enjoyed success as a player; posting solid numbers as a left wing for Detroit in the late 1980s to early 1990s.
When prepping to launch your next marketing or PR campaign, remember the importance of building a solid team that can accomplish these four key requirements: develop quality product, work as a cohesive unit, take on contributing roles, and also perform impactful tasks independently. Recognize the strengths of your team members and appoint them to roles that play best to those skillsets.
Lesson 3: Stay in Control of Your Message
The NHL and the Golden Knights have largely maintained control over the messages communicated to the media regarding the expansion. Once the expansion was confirmed, the league, team owner Bill Foley, and GM McPhee remained transparent about their aspirations and goals for the franchise. Rather than leaving the news to the speculation of ravenous sports writers, they have done a solid job of staying in front of media buzz. Their transparency and availability have played important roles in this.
Whether you’re preparing to launch a new product or managing a PR crisis, remember the importance of controlling your message. When developing content, press releases, or statements, make sure to write with authority, transparency, and honesty. Doing so will leave less room for speculation and will allow you to communicate your message more clearly to interested stakeholders. Being accessible to inquiries, questions, comments, and concerns reduces uncertainty and provides an opportunity to drive the conversation.
Lesson 4: Never Underestimate the Power of Strong Branding
In today’s PR and marketing world, visuals are more powerful than ever. Having a strong brand means that both visual and written content work simultaneously to communicate identity. In the case of the Golden Knights, their branding is iconic upon first glance. The shield and helmet logo directly compliments their name, and there is smart usage of negative space. If you look closely at the helmet, you’ll realize its opening forms a ‘V’ for ‘Vegas.’ This logo is simple, yet elegant, which makes translating it to other merchandise a painless process. Not only does the logo look good on its own, it also stands out on the uniform and the merchandise that will be sold at a team store in the T-Mobile Arena called “The Armory.” As you see, they have a definite, unified theme going here.
Controlling your message provides credibility and authority to your organization, but backing it up with branding supports it and strengthens it tenfold. Remember to treat branding as more than a formality. Branding communicates what your organization is about to the rest of the world and it is what your audiences will associate with your name as long as you’re in business.
As you ponder your next launch, keep these four lessons in mind. If you need any help contact us.