So, it’s midweek here at Chasing Dragons, halfway between the frenetic activity of game days. The dreaded “hump day”, too long after the previous weekend for looking back but too soon for looking forward.
The kind of day that’s every hockey blogger’s nightmare, in fact.
Like writers that get paid for what they do, I’m having to constantly come up with ideas for articles. Most get rejected pretty quickly…for example, “why does Kyle Horne never seem to age?” is a great question but a bit difficult to get a thousand words out of.
However, I’ve been watching with interest over the past two-and-a-bit seasons as the Braehead Clan have quietly become the closest thing British hockey has to a genuine success story right now. From relatively modest beginnings in 2010 they’ve grown to a major force on the UK hockey scene and proved that, even in a city where previous franchises have failed and dominated almost lock, stock and barrel by football, good planning, clever marketing and the right approach can carve out a genuine niche for hockey.
In fact, under the astute leadership of GM Kirsty Longmuir (one of the few female GMs in world hockey and certainly the first in the UK, although she was followed by Sally Mahers here in Coventry last season), I’d argue that the Clan have done far more than just added another venue or team to the EIHL-they’ve become the template for others to follow.
A lot of media attention across the pond has been focused on the St Charles Chill recently-they’re a new franchise starting up in the CHL and their GM Nicole Kupaks, who North American media claims is the “only female GM in pro men’s hockey.” Cue a whole lot of stories about how awesome this is and what a trailblazer for women she is in the American media.
Sorry, US, but you should equally be beating a path to Kirsty Longmuir’s door, because not only is she also blazing a trail for female GMs in a traditionally male sport, the work she and her team have done in building a new franchise from scratch is nothing short of incredible.
Given responsibility for running the club by Nottingham owner (and major investor in the Clan) Neil Black right from the start, the Clan GM and her team have quickly built up their team to a point where they’re considered one of the title contenders this season and have a committed and passionate fan base. And they’ve done it mainly through clever marketing and open-mindedness.
I’ve been up to the Braehead Arena to watch the Blaze play and while it is an impressive venue, it still needs to be filled-and the way the Clan have done it is a lesson to owners right across the league. From the start the Clan have considered their fans not merely as a source of income but have encouraged them to feel a true part of the club, with lively use of social media to promote club and player events, giveaways, and most importantly the creation of the Purple Army fan base.
Go to some teams around the league and you get the sense that the game-night experience is not among the highest of priorities-the music stays the same from season to season, there’s very little engagement with the fan base outside of trying to entice them to spend money, and attending a game is SERIOUS BUSINESS. There’s almost an attitude of “this works for us…so why change it?”
With the Clan, the off-ice team have managed to both entice back fans from the Ayr days in the West of Scotland and attract newbies-matchnights are colourful and loud, there are cheerleaders (Braehearts) and the players are encouraged to treat the fans as team-mates, whipping them up after goals and winning and losing with them.
Added to that are a tiered ticket pricing structure allowing people to watch games from £12 (a quarter less than most EIHL teams) and constant trying of new techniques to market or picking of the best from elsewhere (for example the recently launched Clan TV) and it’s clear that there is an incredibly active and innovative (in British hockey terms) front office team at the Clan-one whose work is paying dividends.
All this, and the constant flow of information from club to fan via the website (including following up on concerns raised at fan forums publicly) and a constant flow of chat on Facebook and Twitter (even if it’s only a mention of who’s out on a school visit that day) is delivered with a sense of fun in stark contrast to the carefully managed and considered anodyne press releases which look professional but have all the emotional drive of a rainy Tuesday.
In short, it’s a completely different approach-one that other teams in the league are now beginning to copy.
Ah, say the traditionalists-but what about the attendances? Give us STATISTICAL proof that this approach works!
The Clan’s average attendance has risen every year they’ve been in existence, and now stands at just under 2,000-higher than several more established teams in the league such as Cardiff and Coventry. The Purple Army are travelling in increasing numbers away from home and you only have to look at the Facebook pages to see that the Clan fan base is a happy and optimistic one whatever the results.
And all this has been achieved in one of the biggest cities in Scotland-a city with many competing attractions including the two biggest football teams and one of the top rugby teams in the country. Not bad work at all, really.
Couple that with the recent signing of Detroit Red Wings star Drew Miller (a player who many wouldn’t have thought would come to the UK even during a lockout, and even then only to one of the traditional powerhouses) and you can only look on in admiration at the results of two years work.
That’s not to say there aren’t excellent marketing efforts being made elsewhere-for example Belfast’s staunch cross-community policy in Northern Ireland (even down to choosing their shirt colour of teal as it was exactly halfway between blue and green) and the sterling efforts being made to revamp the match night experience here in Coventry.
However, the sheer joie de vivre and openness to trying anything displayed by the management in Glasgow is something seemingly truly unique and exciting in a sport that has always been a little resistant to rocking the boat.
What Kirsty Longmuir and her team have realised more than anything is that, in these challenging economic times, ice hockey needs to change and those running teams need to embrace new techniques and new ideas. The old ways that may have served in the past may keep a club treading water, but moving on from here requires revolution, not evolution.
The Clan have done this whole-heartedly right from the start, and the results continue to pay dividends.
And under Longmuir’s leadership, the Purple Revolution is going from strength to strength.