Tuesday, March 14, 2006

NHL in KC? Take Dallas -- for example

I just returned to my room at the Hilton Park Cities after attending the Dallas Stars game at American Airlines Center.

This was my third NHL game this season, which is pretty good for a guy who lives in the hockey vacuum of Johnson County, Ks.

After attending tonight’s Stars game, I have come to the realization that anyone that thinks the NHL wouldn’t work in Kansas City has either:

A) Never been to an NHL game
B) Has no background in, experience with or knowledge of marketing, or
C) Suffered blunt trauma to the skull

If Kansas City gets a team (whether it will happen is another discussion for a future blog post…say in about July), the Stars would be a great example to follow.

Dallas is an NHL success story. Granted, it is a huge market. Still, this town has absolutely fallen in love with hockey and the Stars can take a great deal of the credit. Sure, the Stars have put a great product on the ice since their move from Minneapolis, much of that a result of the large market in which they play allowing Tom Hicks to spend big $$ on players. And sure, having one of the great American-born players of all time, Mike Modano, anchoring your franchise helps.

Regardless of those obvious advantages, the Stars were not a guaranteed success. Dallas had no hockey history and a city with a lot of, well, Texans (ugh).

I spend a lot of time in Dallas and I’ve always thought the Stars marketing, promotions and game production were first rate. Remember, a professional sports franchise isn’t selling a sport…it is selling fun. And, the Stars have always done that (and so have the Mavs…well...since Mark Cuban took over).

The Stars have also done a terrific job of being a catalyst to grow the sport of hockey throughout the Metroplex. Currently, the Stars operate seven Dr. Pepper Star Center hockey facilities throughout the Metroplex. What better way to develop your fan base than to give them a place in which to learn and play the game!

I read that in 1995 Dallas-Fort Worth had four high school hockey teams. FOUR. The 2005-06 season has 28 Varsity teams and 43 Junior Varsity teams. Wow!

The Dr. Pepper Star Center in Frisco is host to one of the top Junior ‘A” teams in the country, the Texas Tornado.

The day will come, in the not too distant future, that a kid who grew up in Dallas will play for the Tornado, move on to NCAA hockey and then suit up for the Stars. It will happen. That kid will be a hero in Dallas and will spark even more hockey growth.

This is the type of thing a Kansas City team must do. A complete marketing program that includes selling tickets, promoting the personalities, getting butts in the seats AND GROWING THE SPORT.

Our city has four rinks with five sheets of ice, all in Johnson County except one (not counting the private Carriage Club). None of the operators of those sheets of ice work together. As a matter of fact, they do nothing collaboratively and, it could be argued, their contentious relationship has HURT hockey's growth in Kansas City. One of the great companies in our city, Hallmark Cards, constantly tells their people they want to "Grow the category". They don't care from whom people buy greeting cards, just that they are in the habit of buying them. Hallmark believes, then, with successful marketing they can get MORE of the card buying public to see out their brand.

The people that run the rinks in Kansas City can't see this forest of opportunity through the trees. "Growing the category" is a completely foreign idea to them. They are too busy with their petty arguments to see they're, ultimately, hurting their product.
(wow...got off on a rant there...if you want to see more, click the rinks' links on the right...I want to grow the category, so I'm providing all the information you need about hockey rinks and leagues in KC)

To be successful, a relocating NHL franchise will need to help finance the construction and operation of, at least, a couple more rinks. There is currently a giant, gaping hole in the Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, Independence area when it comes to ice rinks. Let’s face it…hockey is an expensive sport to play. However, that area of the KC metro has the demographics to support a rink.

Back to tonight’s game.

What a great atmosphere they have in the AAC. Obviously, it is a great sports venue. On top of that, the Stars’ game production staff is first rate. I can honestly tell you that I enjoyed this game more than the other two games that I attended this year (which were also playoff-caliber teams). The building was sold out…on a Monday.

Those that think KC should host the Big XII tournament every year have not been to Dallas. What they are doing around the AAC is absolutely amazing. From the Terrace, to Victory Park to the ‘W’ Hotel, the area around the AAC is booming. Victory Blvd. creates a great walkway from Dallas’ West End to the arena. Heck, even Dick’s Last Resort, a West End staple, has moved closer to the AAC.

Boy, I hope the addition of the Sprint Center can create half the development the AAC has created in Dallas. I think it will.

Now, you’ve reached the end of my latest opinion on the Dallas Stars, the AAC and hockey in Kansas City. I’d like to qualify this whole blog entry by saying I believe the NBA can work in KC, too.

I think the demographics of our city better suit the NHL, however I’m not one of those that says the NHL will work and the NBA won’t, or vice versa. I believe a good organization, properly marketed will be successful.


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