Waiting In The Wings Will Let Em See Red

June 7, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The marketing campaign “See What’s Waiting In The Wings” was created by the Grand Rapids Griffins, the city’s AHL franchise, and by InVision Creative, the franchise’s ad agency, to officially start the Griffs’ five-year affiliation with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and next season’s ticket-selling drive.

But the real originators of the campaign, and the affiliation for that matter, weren’t the Griffins or the Red Wings. No, that honor rightfully belongs to the corporate sponsors and season-ticket holders who have supported the Griffs for the past half-dozen years.

“The key reason for this hockey marriage here is the Griffins’ season ticket holders have laid the foundation for it. They laid the foundation for it simply by the virtue of the success of the franchise over the last six years,” said Griffins Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bob Sack.

“But also, think back two years ago,” he added, “the year 2000, when we had the Red-White game and their incredible response to the Wings coming here. That was the catalyst for this affiliation.”

That historic game drew more than 25,000 requests for tickets in the 10,836-seat Van Andel Arena, and it remains the building’s most sought-after event. Even a seat-sharing arrangement wouldn’t have filled all the ticket requests.

This affiliation between the two franchises is a player-development deal, similar to the one the Griffins held with Ottawa for three seasons. But it’s also much more than that because Detroit is the lean, red marketing machine of the NHL.

A few years back, the NHL announced it had sold $2 billion worth of league and team merchandise that season. There were 28 franchises in the NHL then, and the league’s New York office said that Detroit was responsible for a whopping 10 percent of that revenue. If the league did its math properly, sales of Wings things came to $200 million — and that was just for one season.

A sales figure like that showed the Griffins that Detroit not only scores on the ice, but also in the tills. Add to that a fairly simple concrete run along I-96, when it’s not torn up, and promotional tie-ins become easier and the marketing value of the agreement rises.

“There is no question that this is an unusual situation when it’s compared to most NHL-AHL affiliations. Most don’t have the proximity factor that we have and that certainly provides unique opportunities. This is a mutually beneficial affiliation from a marketing standpoint,” said Sack.

One preseason benefit for the Griffins is the new enticements for clients to buy season tickets. One is called the Hockeytown Package. The other is known as the multi-year partnership. Details of both can be had by calling 774-4585, Ext. 3002.

During the season, Griffins customers can likely expect some special events at the arena and elsewhere that wouldn’t happen without the Wings connection, like having the Stanley Cup pay the city a visit last week.

As for Detroit, that franchise gets to solidify its presence in the second-most populous sector of the state — a move that could make the Red Wings’ bottom line blacker.

“They build further brand loyalty over here. They get the chance to sell tickets to other Joe Louis Arena events. They have a chance to build television ratings. And they have a chance to market merchandise,” said Sack.

Sack told the Business Journal that the Griffins would be ecstatic to sell 6,000 season tickets before the franchise’s seventh season starts, and happy to top 5,000. The front office, however, doesn’t expect to reach the 7,000-mark like they did in their inaugural year.

“I think the power of the new building back in Year One was really dynamic. If you look around pro sports, especially the minor leagues, it’s pretty rare that six or seven years in, somebody is still at the figure,” he said.

But go figure this omen, which makes one think this is a match that the corporate gods blessed. “See What’s Waiting In The Wings” is a catchy slogan that will build this summer and peak in October when the Wings-to-be take to the arena ice. But interestingly enough, the goal of the Griffins’ campaign is unintentionally onside with the Hockeytown playoff-marketing slogan — “Let ’Em See Red.”

“I think our overall objective is to somehow give our season ticket holders a greater link to the franchise that most of them dearly love,” said Sack, “and that is the Detroit Red Wings.”           

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