Blue Jackets marketing evolves with team

BY foxsports • October 23, 2014

As the Columbus Blue Jackets have made changes over the past few years to put a more competitive team on the ice, so too has the business side of the organization made strides to improve the fan experience.

Gone are the days when the team would limp to the finish line at the end of the season, only to have the club try and sell season tickets one week later with the disappointing taste of another bad year still fresh in the fans' memory. It was a tired formula that didn't see much growth.

That all changed a few years ago, coinciding with John Davidson being named to the position of President of Hockey Operations. The entire organization was revamped, where one side was helping the other, and vice versa.

Larry Hoepfner is the executive vice president of business operations for the Blue Jackets and oversees a vast majority of the departments that are working hand-in-hand to make the fane experience that much better. He's been with the organization since June 2005, and has held his current position since July 2010.

He recently sat down with me to talk about these changes and what to expect in the future.

Q: What prompted the change from sales-driven marketing to emotion-based marketing?

A: What prompted the change is that we took inventory of where we were, organizationally, versus where we had been. What we realized is that we had an opportunity to change our message. At that time, we realized that we had the most credible, the most proven hockey leadership that we've had in team history.

The organization has always been committed to be building a winner the right way. All of a sudden, we had an opportunity to build upon our leadership, convince people to stay with us and to convince people that we were going to build a team that they would be proud of. It really was John (Davidson) coming on and a couple of months later with Jarmo (Kekalainen) coming onboard. That was the catalyst for the change in direction.

Q: The previous marketing strategy consisted of trying to sell season tickets shortly after another bad season with mixed results. The fans seemed to be saying, 'Ho hum, same old Jackets, why buy tickets?'

A: In a sense, it was, although, that was certainly not the intention. Obviously, we discovered when John (Davidson) was onboard and the opportunity that we had in front of us, it wasn't "the same old thing."

It was a new opportunity. It gave us an opportunity to work on our brand image. We had something to build upon and to do marketing instead of selling. We had an opportunity to market and lay the ground work for an effective selling season.

Q: How receptive was John Davidson to being a part of the marketing campaign of the team?

A: We could not have asked for a better relationship than what we have with John. I can't sit here and tell a time, off the top of my head, that John Davidson has said "no" to us. That has not happened.

He has been extremely committed in building this team on the ice and off the ice. Everything we've asked of him, whether it be producing television spots, communicating directly to our customers, going to events, going to meetings - whatever we've asked John for, the answer has always been "yes."

Q: What has been the reception that you've seen to the way the team is being marketed now?

A: I don't think that anything is directly related to one single thing that we do. I think that you have to look at the combination of everything that happens here. When you look at the metrics that we use to measure our business (season ticket sales, single game sales, sponsorship, customer satisfaction research, etc.), all of those things are trending in the right direction. We're very happy with the pace with which they're trending.

But, it takes a complete effort. It starts with the team on the ice. Our players and our hockey operations department deserve a lot of the credit for that. It's also the fans, who have been extremely loyal to this team. I don't think we could have asked for a better or more loyal fan base. They've been patient with us. You also have to add in the sales and support staff here.

So, it's not a television commercial that does anything. A commercial is just a part of the overall effort that starts on the ice and works its way throughout the organization in everything we do. Together, we do great things here. It's much bigger than a marketing direction or a television commercial. It's the total team effort we have here.

We have a phrase here and that's "we are ALL Blue Jackets." We're certainly not a perfect organization. But what we're good at is attempting to get better every day.

Q: Is it a surprise to you how loyal this fan base is in the face of not the greatest, quality-wise, hockey in the past?

A: Well, maybe several years ago I was surprised when I first got here. But, there is nothing about this fan base that surprises me now. It's not a matter of taking it for granted, but I am convinced that we have the most loyal and best fan base in our sport.

I walk around this building a lot on game nights and I shake hands with many people. They have been extremely supportive. The level of support doesn't surprise me, but we know we have to keep working hard to continue to earn it.

Part two of this series will run Friday on FOXSportsOhio.com.


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