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Hockey is a game of gliding skates and goals scored, but caring for a rink requires continual repaving by a Zamboni. In a similar way, acquiring loyal fans and retaining them is about more than just winning games – it’s about continually tending to the team culture.
The Montreal Canadiens hockey team is smoothing the ice of its fan base Canada and beyond with its loyalty program, the 1909 Club. Among National Hockey League teams, the Canadiens boast some of the most ferociously loyal fans and a storied history dating back over a century. The new loyalty program seeks to further solidify the team’s steadfast following, announcing a “Unite the Faithful” advertising campaign. Through the campaign, Montreal Canadiens hopes to expand its global fanbase through digital engagement strategies.
In the NHL, there are certain geographical restrictions on use of logos and branding; the team only allows use within a 75-kilometre radius of the Bell Center, the Canadiens’ home arena.
“We have the possibility,” Kevin Gilmore, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a release, “with Club 1909, to create partnerships without borders.”
Gilmore believes that the program unleashes the potential for expanding its fan base beyond the restriction of the geographical radius by allowing for digital experiences and contests on social media. A hypothetical initiative envisions a photo contest to find the fan that is furthest from Bell Centre, offering free tickets and Air Canada plane ride to a Canadiens Game.
“In my grandfather’s of my father’s case, Twitter didn’t exist. Facebook didn’t exist. Digital media didn’t exist,” Geoff Molson, Canadiens owner, president, and CEO, said in a release. “There are people from all over the world that want access to us, and want to be a part of our organization in some way.”
With this digital loyalty initiative, raising fan awareness has become an international endeavor. In the NFL, there are rumors of creating a UK franchise based in London. Similarly, the Canadiens are using the 1909 Club to garner fans in Asia, specifically in China where a rising middle class has given way to interest in professional sports.
“We’ve talked to a group out of China that wants to work with us on growing the sport of hockey,” Mr. Gilmore said. “If the Winter Games end up in Beijing, there will be a big push for hockey in China.”
For these grand plans to work, the team will need to be persistent in its smoothing of the ice. The group is confident, however, forecasting roughly 500,000 new loyalty program subscribers in its first year.
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