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How Blue Jackets’ new ‘Defend NWA’ campaign promotes fan defiance in dire times


Guest DinahMoeHumm
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One of the telltale signs that your favorite team is struggling at the gate: When they spend more time promoting the players visiting the arena than their own stars.

I saw this firsthand growing up as a New Jersey Nets fan in the late 1980s. The team was as terrible as the arena, empty seats outnumbering fans by a considerable margin. Sam Bowie and Dennis Hopson weren't selling tickets; Michael Jordan and Larry Bird would, so the multi-game packages were built around when the Bulls, Celtics and other glamor franchises would visit the Meadowlands.

It's depressing when your team's marketing plan positions it as a jobber to the stars, like a welcome mat for the soiled feet of the visitors. It does nothing to instill pride or stoke passion. It's akin to your house guests grabbing the cable remote and flipping channels while you're forced to watch "Honey Boo Boo", which is a special kind of pain.

It happens in the NHL, too. If Phoenix Coyotes fans haven't been through enough already, the attendance-challenged Western Conference finalist thoroughly puts over the visiting teams on its just-released 2012-13 schedule. "Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town for their only visit" and "The Philadelphia Flyers, led by snipers Claude Giroux and Danny Briere make their only visit to the Valley" and so on.

At no point in the release does it say something like "Cheer On Your Coyotes As They Battle …" or "Watch Your Coyotes Kick The Crap Outta …".

Or "Defend Your Arena From The Conquering Hordes of Opposing Players and Opposing Fans." Which is exactly where another attendance-challenged team in the Western Conference, the Columbus Blue Jackets, have decided to take its marketing campaign for next season.

It's not enough to show up at the game; it's time to defend your arena and your team from the mud being thrown at them by the rest of the hockey world.

And if it evokes a classic gangsta rap group, all the better.

In case you haven't heard, it's been a pretty terrible 2012 for the Columbus Blue Jackets. They finished last in the NHL with 65 points and a goal differential of minus-60, and yet didn't earn the top pick in the NHL Draft. Their franchise standard-bearer Rick Nash opted for a trade over further rebuilding, and was sent to the New York Rangers in a package the majority of hockey pundits deemed underwhelming. Center Derick Brassard said he doesn't see a first line on the current roster. The Jackets' identity had entered into crisis, on the ice and in their messages to fans.

"It is a new era. We're going to be honest in saying that," said Marcus Stephenson, digital marketing manager for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So how does a team that traded last summer's key acquisition to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, finished last, lost its captain and is in a clear rebuild convince fans with varying degrees of abject frustration to spend money on tickets?

By attempting to transform those emotions into a battle for dignity.

#DEFENDNWA is the rallying cry for the Blue Jackets this summer; "NWA" as in Nationwide Arena, the team's home base.

It's a social media campaign that's an innovative twist on the old "pay to see the visiting team" conceit: Acknowledging the Jackets' adversity, with an unspoken nod to their opponents' success, and asking fans to rally to defend their turf against these visiting teams rather than paying to see them beat up the locals.

"It plays into the overarching 'Join The Battle' theme that we've come up with this year. Our team is completely different. Our building's going to be a lot different. We're ushering in a new era here," Stephenson said.

"You've heard Coach [Todd] Richards talk about that level of accountability, and that's there organization wide. We wanted to take that same message and put it out to all of our fans."

The result was a social media blitz in August, that had Jackets fans changing their Twitter avatars to "Defend NWA" signs and attaching the #DEFENDNWA hashtag to their hockey tweets.

"It was to show the rest of the hockey world that we have this great group of fans here. Super passionate and hardcore," said Stephenson.

To those fans, "DEFEND NWA" was a clear reference to their home hockey barn.

To others … well, NWA might evoke another image. One straight outta Compton.

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(Hey, look, a Kings fan!)

From 1986-1991, the gangsta rap pioneers "Niggaz With Attitude" created classics like "[Expletive] Tha Police" and spawned the careers of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. And there's really nothing greater than unintentional gangsta rap references in NHL marketing campaigns, is there?

Stephenson was aware of the connection since the dawn of the campaign.

"Our core fans got it. Our fans here know that, as it relates to us, NWA relates to Nationwide Arena," he said.

"As with the nature of Twitter, you need a hastag that's shorter. But I realize the hashtag has gotten some traction in the hip-hop community. But I would point out that their N.W.A. has periods."

The players began getting involved with "DEFEND NWA" too, beginning with defenseman James Wisniewski's "imagine what it'll sound like if we start winning" message:

http://video.bluejac...d=705&id=185442

"It really showed how united an organization we are. We're all really aligned. It speaks volumes," said Stephenson.

Has the campaign made an impact with fans? Matt Wagner of The Cannon opines:

It's legitimate to look at the search engine results or social media trending and saying that the more these tags and campaigns circulate, the more successful they are, but the real success or failure of these efforts is going to be measured in how many tickets are sold - and specifically, how many tickets are sold to Blue Jackets fans who will wear the home colors with pride when teams capable of drawing many more fans into the area (Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, etc.) come to town.

Given the challenges the team faces in a post-Nash, potential lockout, last place offseason, that's a tall order, and while I am hopeful we'll see improvements in the on-ice product, I'm not so sure we're going to see the same thing in the stands.

That's the real battle for the Blue Jackets in filling seats: That fans are filled less with defiance and pride than with apathy.

That's why this honest take from Columbus could work: It's a quasi-acknowledgement that times are tough, with the hope that fans will want to solider through this with their favorite team — rather than stay home and concede their territory to empty chairs, or ones filled with opposing sweaters.

"Our organization is anxious to move forward, and our fans are with us there. It wasn't just us coming up with some marketing campaign; it's knowing our community well enough to know they'd assist in defending this arena," said Stephenson.

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My personal opinion...

Move them to the Atlantic division or at least to the east. Pittsburgh and Ohio-based teams never had a problem establishing rivalries, no matter how bad one team is over the other. It would also cut traveling cost for Columbus. If I can get in my car and drive three hours to the nearest hockey city, they should be in our division or conference.

Don't get me wrong, Columbus still has to do their part. My suggestion is not the "answer" to their problems. Ownership still has to put out a better product and do their part, but it would be a step in the right direction. Unlike some other cities in this country, Columbus is not a bad hockey market.

They just need something to cheer for if they're fans are going to put up the big cash. Can you blame them? I realize some are "huge fans" when their sitting on the couch and drinking cheap beer and food, but it's a little different when you have a season ticket package and a family of three or four. It's easy to call people "bandwagon fans" when that's the case.

Like I said, it would be a step in the right direction.

Edited by Penguins-66
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@Penguins-66 The problem with that idea is the Blue Jackets natural rivilary with the Red Wings. They sell out every game when the Wings come to town....the fans are really into the Wings vs Jackets, so that would be tough for the owner to let go of AND I'm pretty sure Detroit is closer to Columbus than Pittsburgh. The other problem is the Wings feel they belong in the East, and I'm pretty sure Ilitich would make a good case to move to the East before the Jackets. Either way, it looks like the Jackets might get screwed out of thier natural rivilary with the Wings, one of the only things the franchise can hang it's hat on.

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The problem with that idea is the Blue Jackets natural rivilary with the Red Wings. They sell out every game when the Wings come to town....the fans are really into the Wings vs Jackets,

A rivalry between Pittsburgh and (insert any Ohio-based sports team here) would be just as intense, if not more so. You don't have to look any further than the rivalries formed between the Steelers-Browns and Steelers-Bengals over the decades. A strong disdain between the two regions has already been established. Also, I strongly doubt ownership would struggle with getting butts in the seats at Nationwide Arena in order to regularly watch the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Those two have a knack for putting up big numbers on the ice, but they also have a knack for putting up big numbers in the seats.

so that would be tough for the owner to let go of AND I'm pretty sure Detroit is closer to Columbus than Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh to Columbus is a little over 3 hours. Detroit to Columbus is a little over 3 and a half hours. It's not by much. But, my intentions were not meant to compare or strictly focus on the distances between Detroit to Columbus and Pittsburgh to Columbus, but to compare fan and organizational traveling costs when it comes to other teams in the western conference and even in their own division. For Columbus fans, getting in your car and driving to Chicago, St. Louis or Nashville isn't exactly a hop, skip and a jump. It's definately farther than driving the 3 hours and 10 minutes to Pittsburgh.

More importantly and to my point, it's the grueling road trips to the California coast or Alberta and back that really hurt them. That's a ton of traveling for an organization that reportedly lost $25 million in 2010. Taking into account traveling cost, player fatigue and the opportunity to regularly watch some of the greatest talent the league has to offer inside their own building and I don't think McConnell/Howson would have a problem moving the organization to the eastern conference. In fact, I believe both wouldn't think twice about the opportunity and would welcome the move with wide-open arms.

I'm pretty sure Ilitich would make a good case to move to the East before the Jackets.

Unfortunately for Columbus, I'm sure Detroit would get the nod over Columbus. I don't agree with it considering Columbus is the organization bleeding money and struggling to establish a consistent fan following, not Detroit, but I'm sure that would be the case if it came down between the two.

Edited by Penguins-66
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@Penguins-66 Yes, I agree, Columbus, geographically should be in the East, same with Detroit. To your other point, I'm sure the Pens vs Jackets would develop rapidly, but the Wings are already established sell outs....but in the end, I agree, they are baiscally interchangeable. Plus, I'd love to have the Jackets in the East for the easy Flyer points....lol.

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One of the telltale signs that your favorite team is struggling at the gate: When they spend more time promoting the players visiting the arena than their own stars.

Gotta say that I completely disagree. I tried to read most of your blog (or whomevers blog it was), but it was tough. Marketing is marketing. Even the elite teams do the same thing. Their job is to create buzz for the oppossing team that is coming to town. They should concurrently to that create buzz for the home team (otherwise, there would be no buzz). An organizations marketing teams goal is to sell as many tickets as possible.

It comes down to a couple of angles:

1) Favorite angle (is the home team the favorite)- If so, you have to create interest in the lessor team- else people will adopt a "ho hum, it will be a cake walk, why bother going attitude".

2) Underdog angle (is the home team the underdog)- If so, you still have to create interest in the greater team- else people will adopt a "ho hum, we will lose, lets not go attitude".

3) Geographic / Divisional

4) etc. etc.

I could go on and on.

Right now, Columbus does not really have a "Face" with the departure of Nash. It is much harder to promote the new players- as the fans do not have much familiarity with them. That will change as the year goes on. If I was in marketing, I would put Dubinsky, Bobrovsky, Wiesnewski and Johnson as my four cournerstones of the team from the home team standpoint. I would brand it as a "tough" team to play against. I would show Dubinsky's goals and two-way play and hitting. I would show Johnson and Wiesnewski's hitting and compatible styles and then I would show Brobrovky's great athleticism.

I would run that as my home team ad campaign and then promo the other teams stars coming to town.

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@Penguins-66 The problem with that idea is the Blue Jackets natural rivilary with the Red Wings. They sell out every game when the Wings come to town....the fans are really into the Wings vs Jackets, so that would be tough for the owner to let go of AND I'm pretty sure Detroit is closer to Columbus than Pittsburgh. The other problem is the Wings feel they belong in the East, and I'm pretty sure Ilitich would make a good case to move to the East before the Jackets. Either way, it looks like the Jackets might get screwed out of thier natural rivilary with the Wings, one of the only things the franchise can hang it's hat on.

Way to derail a thread!

Reported- ha

On the Detroit being in the East, they have a point, but no more than a point than Columbus. They are nearly identical in longitude positioning. Of course Detroit has the tremendous hockey history. With both teams, it is not so much the division as the conference. As an original 6 team, I get Detroits lament. They envy the significant lower travel of 4 of the other original 5 (NYR, Boston, Montreal and Toronto). But truthfully, Columbus is slightly better positioned (about 30 minutes by plane) on latitudinal positioning.

There would be a couple of considerations for me:

1) Columbus- Being financially constrained, their travel expense would be considerably diminished. However, teams like Detroit, upcoming St. Louis, Chicago and Nashville are nothing to be sneezed at as rivalries within one our flight of your home city.

2) Detroit- Being financially rich, the travel does not matter and the teams competiveness would likely increase due to less weariness. You would have to put them in the Northeast: Boston, Toronto, Buffalo, Ottawa and that other team that Habsguy likes.

In the end, I would probably let Columbus slide over because of their financial difficulties and they could save some money.

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I know Bettman has *promised* Mike Ilitch that the WIngs can evenually move to the East. There is no way Mike would make such a claim public if that were not the case. When the NHLPA derailed the re-alignment process last spring, I believe Detroit was given the Hockey Classic to calm them down...Ilitich wants this "real bad" and being one of the 8 big wig money making owners, well...he will probably get his way.

This article covers the "promise" pretty decently, and also mentions the Blue Jackets problem as well...

http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2011/09/30/but-you-promised-mike-ilitch-says-gary-bettman-promised-him-detroit-would-move-east/

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I know Bettman has *promised* Mike Ilitch that the WIngs can evenually move to the East. There is no way Mike would make such a claim public if that were not the case. When the NHLPA derailed the re-alignment process last spring, I believe Detroit was given the Hockey Classic to calm them down...Ilitich wants this "real bad" and being one of the 8 big wig money making owners, well...he will probably get his way.

This article covers the "promise" pretty decently, and also mentions the Blue Jackets problem as well...

http://prohockeytalk...ould-move-east/

I get all the arguments. What I am torn about is does Detroits departure from the West "water" down the talent there? While Detroit has an enormous hockey heritage, during my lifetime they have had two chapters (since I began watching hockey):

Late 70's / 80's: Detroit was mediocre most of the time. Note, the 80's saw Iltch purchase the team, but turnaround was 'a slow train coming'.

90's: The russian 5 under Yzermans more tenured helm. Add a bowman here and a lidstrom there. Wala.

I think that the management and scouting has shown enormous resiliency over the last 2 decades to allow them to remain an elite team. While as a Flyer fan, it would worry me, as a hockey fan, I would enjoy seeing Detroit play the Bostons, Pitts, NYR and Flyers of the world much more frequently. I lived in Van for 7 years and the Van-Detroit games were always good. Before Vancouver, I moved to Colorado the same year the No-dicks exiled from Quebec to Toronto. Those Colorado-Detroit battles were some of the fiercest I saw in the 90's.

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@Vanflyer Yeah, those Colorado vs Wings battles were some of the best hockey ever played.....and yeah, Claude Lemieux meant to re-adjust Drapers face. Who can forget the all out thrilling violence of the Osgood vs Roy (or Vernon vs Roy for that matter) goalie fights. Look at the face on Roy during this fight...LMAO...he was so good because of his temper, he used it as a motovational tool. Just loved Patrick's intensity level and how he played the game with so much unbridled emotion. Hope fans never forget what he gave us!

Getting back to Detroit in the East...I would love to see it, but like you said, it would be sad to see the old rivalaries die. Most would not remember it, but the Blues and Wings once had a fierce battle going on also...and the Hawks vs Wings was always good for some battles (esp when Chelios was in Chicago).

As a Flyer fan, it would be tough to see the Wings in the East...one more team to worry about an potentially block our way. They always seem to have our number, esp in Detroit. But, it would be good for hockey. Seeing Detroit vs Toronto would be worth it alone...there was WICKED hatred between those clubs...sad to see it gone, and would love for it to come back. Also, the orginal six of Detroit vs NYR and Bos....not to mention 4 games a year against the Habs...that is ALWAYS a great game Wings vs Montreal. I wanna see this real bad....would be great for the sport.

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I think the Jackets had a decent offseason, adding Aucoin to help the talented young d-men coming up, Foligno for Methot was a no brainer, Murray as the second pick was a nice consolation, taking a couple of talented goalies in the draft, Bob the goalie at least gives them someone to push Mason out the door, a hell of a lot better than York and Sanford anyway, the Nash trade at least brought in some talent at multiple positions and future draft picks, overall, much more talent than they had at the end of the season when Gillies, Russell, Boyce and Lebda were seeing regular shifts. Not seeing a chance in hell of making the playoffs, but at least they have something to try to build on. This no name team would have been perfect for Hitchcock, but they wiffed and he is working a miracle in St. Louis. If they get some coaching, and the team takes an us against the world mentality they could be a tough team to play nightly.

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