Coyotes upping marketing efforts to lure future fans

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have heard relocation rumblings almost since the day former owner Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy in 2009.

Even after a new ownership group bought the team from the NHL, the speculation remained, fueled by an out clause in the team's arena lease and another round of tense dealings with the city of Glendale.

After more than six years of being pegged for a new market, the Coyotes seem to have turned the tide. There are still people who believe the team is destined to move and there probably always will be, but at least now they seem to be dwindling into the minority.

''It is very, very rare that I hear anyone ask about the concept of us moving out of state,'' Coyotes co-owner, president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said. ''What I'm asked about now is where do you anticipate playing in the next couple of years, is it in Glendale or downtown Phoenix or in Scottsdale? Those are the right questions for people to be asking. I'm glad that our fan base has embraced it and understands that our desire is to remain in this market.''

With the shifting public perception comes a shift in the Coyotes' marketing strategy.

For years, the team seemed to have a scattershot approach to marketing, coming up with a new slogan with each season, the focus more on the game-day experience than an overall plan.

The Coyotes changed their direction with the hiring of John Pierce as their chief marketing officer last year.

Pierce spent eight years as the managing director of marketing and productions for the U.S. Olympic Committee and he quickly went to work to change Arizona's strategy.

The Coyotes started by asking focus groups, fans, employees, hockey operations personnel - anyone and everyone they could - to get a grasp on the team's identity. They came up with a plan and with the help of two outside agencies, Sterling Brands and One Sixty Over Ninety, began implementing it.

''We're finished apologizing because we're proud of this brand and who we are,'' LeBlanc said. ''We know what happened in the past, but we're looking at it, even from a team perspective, of I don't want to hear about it anymore. We're not focused on the past. We're focused on the now and the future. That was really important to me.''

The new rebranding campaign, which LeBlanc said the team put ''significant dollars toward,'' includes a new 30-second TV spot, a short film that will run in Phoenix-area theaters during the holidays, new digital experiences on the team website and social media platforms, and an expanded community outreach.

Fan engagement is a huge thrust in the campaign, including a pregame selfie for one fan with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a first howl by a local celebrity or hero, and digital Coyotes eyes that can be downloaded and shown around the arena as the opposing team takes the ice.

''We're trying to add some traditions to a team that needs traditions,'' said Pierce, who also worked for Disney and the Florida Marlins. ''We're working hard to bring that mood back. This is a team people think from the outside doesn't have tradition, doesn't have a fan base, doesn't have anything to say. We're proving them otherwise.''

The core of the rebranding campaign, as is usually the case with professional franchises, is to create new fans.

Arizona is a tough market for most professional franchises because it is filled with so many transplants. Some of the best-attended Coyotes games are when teams with strong fan bases come to town, occasionally making Gila River Arena feel like a road game for the Coyotes.

The Coyotes know they're not going to change the allegiances of die-hard transplants from other markets, but are hoping to at least make Arizona their No. 2 team. The Coyotes also would like to get kids to have a vested interest in the hometown team to build for the future, so they started a jersey exchange program where kids receive free Arizona youth jerseys for every opposing team jersey exchanged by an adult.

''It's just about acknowledging it, not making people feel guilty that you really should be rooting for us,'' Pierce said. ''It's on us to give those kids reasons to believe in this team.''

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