how to make an extremely cool hockey experience

No one has more ideas than…well, probably not me.

Norfolk is returning to the ECHL in a different format. The Admirals have been away from the ECHL for so long that the acronym stands for itself, and not “East Coast Hockey League” because of teams in places like Alaska. Instead of being a collection of letters that stands for nothing, I think it should be the Extremely Cool Hockey League and the Admirals should be an Extremely Cool Team.

How do they do this? A while back I was mentioned on Twitter by something called “Stadium Journey“, a website that reviews various stadiums across North America. Generally speaking, the neighborhood and concessions got favorable marks for the website. Otherwise? Not so much. Part of this was not helped by the Ads going through a dismal season–something without a lot of control. There’s truth to it all though, as there doesn’t seem to be a lot of money in the team.

Aaron Terry at Stadium Journey recommends going to a Tides game–the gift, the curse. Norfolk’s Triple-A baseball team is another local institution that used to own the Tides (before all that collusion) and plays in one of minor league ball’s best parks. Investment in the team can be seen on several levels. The Tides, for instance, have a built-in gift shop and a billboard on 264 West approaching the park. Admirals promotion comes down to the odd Facebook or Twitter share and word-of-mouth. Simply put, there’s one way to make this better: have the Edmonton Oilers invest in the team for real.

Steps 1 repeated: Get the Edmonton Oilers to invest in the team they own

After years of local ownership, the Admirals are now owned by a multi-level sports conglomerate known as Oilers Entertainment Grop (OEG). OEG owns a sports vertical that starts with the Edmonton Oilers, and includes the Bakersfield Condors, the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL), and the Admirals.  Further, OEG is investing in a new arena called Rogers Place for the Oil, which is confusing because there is already Rogers Arena for the Canucks. (Rogers is a giant telecom in Canada, rivaled only by Bell). The Oilers clearly have money to spend if they’re going to invest in arenas, including Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena, as well as own 4 hockey teams at different levels of professionalism.

OEG most likely sees its top priority with the Oil and the construction of the new Ice District, followed by a splashy entrance into the AHL’s new Californian hockey archipelago (complete with its own set of rules). The Oil Kings are probably third because they play in the same arena as the Oilers and it’s an easy thing to monitor. Norfolk may have to fend for themselves, as the adage goes.

Doing so is a disservice to the fans in Hampton Roads as well as neglecting an investment. OEG should be focused on doing as much as possible. Put billboards up, buy TV and radio advertising time, and bring in a variety of Admirals and Oilers merchandise to be purchased. Yes: there is the slight problem that OEG can not fix all of the problems of the arena. More on that later.

OEG also needs to make a winning product happen at the ECHL level. People generally love winners, and don’t want to see a losing product. This is especially true in a non-traditional hockey market, where some long-time residents may not even be aware of the local team’s presence. By winning, you generate interest, you generate headlines, and people being to take notice. Management must do what is necessary to create a consistent, exciting team on the ice.

Step 2: Make improvements to Norfolk Scope sooner than later

Scope is the place to play for the Admirals for the foreseeable future. It is aging but there is a plan to improve the arena that will cost a reported $3.5 million. It is unclear if this has passed or if it is going to happen. It needs to happen to keep Scope a viable place for hockey and other events. Doing so will help bolster efforts to keep at least an ECHL team in Hampton Roads (though the new Virginia Beach arena may create another series of scenarios).

Scope needs to be an inviting environment to watch a game. As it is now, it is a bare-bones arena purely for the purpose of hockey on game nights. While many fans are fine with this, it does not necessarily grow the sport to a first-time visitor. Ideally, the action on the ice is what cements a hockey fan. Games don’t exist in a bubble, though, and a litany of experiences can determine how a potential new fan evaluates the game. By creating a positive experience, fans will want to come back again.

Step 3: Use social media better

I am going to be honest: there’s a weird line between “good” and “please stop, I just want the goals” when using Twitter or Snapchat or any of the like. The AHL went on a full-out social blitz last year on Twitter that constantly stretched between these two poles. Figuring out the best way to communicate to fans is a skill, and it has to be learned over time. My twitter is bad, so I’m not the one for advice.

Step 4: Listen to fans, make things better

My last step in this incomplete post is for OEG to listen to fans. It’s pretty simple, really: find out what the fans want, try to see if it’s feasible, and then implement those solutions. Ask for fan responses to the solutions, and ask how they feel about them. A lot of this needs to be covered by the Admirals at the ground level, with OEG listening. OEG has a complex chain, and they need to create an established system of review, response, and implementation. If they do? It might be extremely cool.

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Beneath The Scope

Beneath the Scope is a blog that covers the ECHL's Norfolk Admirals. Compete level has never been higher.

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