Saturday, August 8, 2009

Change CAN be a good thing

The Kalamazoo Wings have gone through a lot of changes recently. First, they left the International Hockey League after many years to join the ECHL. Now, they have announced that they have reached an agreement to become an affiliate of both the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks.

Per this affiliation, both the Flyers and Sharks will be assigning players to Kalamazoo. This will allow Wings fans to be able to see a higher caliber of hockey than they’ve seen in many years.

I really like the move to the ECHL by the Wings. In this economy, where each and every day we hear stories about companies cutting jobs and downsizing, the Wings are actually expanding their business.

When I first heard about the move to the ECHL, I was hoping that the Wings could become an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. In doing that, the Grand Rapids Griffins would become their AHL affiliate. The marketing opportunities would be endless if that would happen! It has worked out very well for the West Michigan Whitecaps and their affiliation with the Detroit Tigers, so why wouldn’t it work out with the Kalamazoo Wings?

I do realize though that NHL teams sign agreements with their affiliates that last two or three years typically, so for the Wings to become affiliated with the Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins, the timing would have to be perfect.

Unfortunately, the Red Wings are already an affiliate of the Toledo Walleye. So now, the Kalamazoo Wings are going to be an affiliate of both the Philadelphia Flyers and the San Jose Sharks.

I initially thought that this meant goodbye to endless marketing opportunities and goodbye fans being able to relate to their NHL affiliate. Even K-Wings President Paul Pickard stating “We are excited and honored to be associated with two of the finest franchises in the NHL, both organizations share our core values and have our commitment for producing championship caliber teams” didn’t make me feel any better.

He has to make statements like that. It would be a horrible first impression if he said “We’re glad to have an NHL affiliation, but are a little disappointed that it’s not with the Detroit Red Wings or some other team from the Midwest Region. The Flyers and Sharks will do for now, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for something better in the future.”

So what can the K-Wings do to show their fans a connection with their affiliates? With one team on the east coast and the other near the west coast, one might think that there is no connection.

I’ve decided to come up with some ideas to make K-Wings fans feel more of a bond with their NHL affiliates.

Ways to bond with the Philadelphia Flyers

1. Set up a concession stand that will sell Philly Cheese Steaks- The food at Wings Stadium is pretty basic. There is plenty of candy, pop, beer, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers and pizza. If they set up a Philly Cheese Steak stand, plenty of people would welcome the change and embrace the connection with the Flyers.
2. Stage a “Rocky” Theme night-This could be anything. Rocky trivia, Rocky costume contest, Rocky music, or even a “Yo Adrian” contest, where anyone that is named Adrian will get in for half price. There were 6 Rocky movies so there are many ideas to choose from.
3. Bring in former Philadelphia Flyer stars of the past-This could be a lot of different people. They could bring in the “Broad Street Bullies”, Ron Hextall, or even Jeremy Roenick (he just retired, so he’s probably got some free time on his hands.

Ways to bond with the San Jose Sharks

1. Have a Jeremy Roenick night- This might actually work because the last team that Roenick played for was the San Jose Sharks. He could come in and give the K-Wings fans a connection to both teams.
2. Stage a “Shark Night”- Shark Week on the Discovery Channel is always a big draw on television, so why not bring a version of it to Kalamazoo? The Sharks mascot, S.J. Sharkie, could come in for a game. The Wings could also offer season ticket packages that are reduced because a shark has taken a bite out of them.
3. Giveaway tickets to NHL cities- Anytime either the Philadelphia Flyers or San Jose Sharks are playing in Detroit or Chicago (the two NHL cities that are closest to Detroit), the Wings could partner with a sponsor and offer some sort of overnight package to those cities that would include tickets to the game.

These are just a few of the ideas that the Kalamazoo Wings could use that would offer fans a way to bond with their NHL affiliate. Like I said before, an affiliation with the Red Wings would have been very easy to market. However, with a little imagination, a town like Kalamazoo can become connected to major cities that are thousands of miles away.

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