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And Our Survey Said.....Marketing Needs a Boost

The talk of the town right now is about a little ole' survey that an intern for Public Policy Polling recently took concerning sports in North Carolina. The results for a couple of the questions asked should be eye-openers for the Hurricanes organization. That is, if they want to be known outside the friendly confines of the state capital's area code.

For instance, when residents were asked if they knew that there was a hockey team named the Carolina Hurricanes in the State of North Carolina, 18% of respondents answered no.

Lord Stanley's Blog called the results "weird", but are they really?

If we take a closer look at the survey results, they don't seem weird to me.

The survey results are broken down into sub-categories by area code, gender, political affiliation, and race. Since in my opinion the location of respondents is most important, we will compare the area codes first. The area codes included 252, (Rocky Mount), 336, (Greensboro), 704, (Charlotte), 919, (Raleigh/Durham), and 910, (Wilmington and the coastal area). Obviously, the 919 area code had the most favorable results for the Hurricanes.

Now if we return to the question and compare the results by region, things make perfect sense. Only 6% in the Raleigh area say that they didn't realize the Hurricanes existed. Let's face it, 6% of the public wouldn't be able to tell you the color of the sky if you asked them in a poll, so that number is meaningless.

But the results are alarming when you look at the remainder of the state. In Charlotte, the most populated region of the state, 19% don't know about the team. In Greensboro, a major city just 45 minutes away, 17% say they didn't know. But worst of all in the Rocky Mount area, 28% responded that they hadn't heard of the Hurricanes. Rocky Mount is also about 45 minutes away from downtown Raleigh.

What do these results mean? Is this an indication that hockey can't survive here because people hate the sport? Of course not. In my opinion, this simply means that the Hurricanes marketing attempts and results have been feeble outside the Raleigh area code.

I believe that the Canes do a pretty good job of marketing in the local area. They take players to schools, they invite various local groups to open practices, and they are heavily involved with youth hockey in the area. But what do they do in Greensboro? How about Charlotte or Rocky Mount?

Perhaps they just don't care about those areas? Puck Daddy got a hold of this story and called up the Hurricanes Director of Media Relations, Mike Sundheim for his take. Of course, Sundheim downplayed the results, saying that part of the problem is that the state is so big. People in the mountains 5-6 hours away don't know or care about the Canes.

While I'll agree with that point, what about the residents in Greensboro, Rocky Mount, and Charlotte? Are the Canes focusing any energy on them at all? Most Caniacs in those areas would tell you that they don't. I've had fans email me to complain that they can't listen to Hurricanes games on the radio in Greensboro. I don't believe the Hurricanes "Radio Network" exists in Rocky Mount or Charlotte either.

If fans can't even listen to their favorite team's games on the radio in those areas, is it really that shocking when a survey comes back indicating that a large percentage of people didn't know the team existed? I don't think that there is any question that the Hurricanes marketing effort in those areas needs improving, if the market is to grow there.

Since the team's attendance numbers are down last year from the year before, I wouldn't ignore the immediate surrounding areas if it was my team. Perhaps owner, Peter Karmanos agrees with me. He stated earlier this offseason that the marketing department needed a push, and he vowed to get personally involved.

Sundheim also brought up the point to Puck Daddy that the local paper, the News and Observer dedicated almost the entire front sports page to a story detailing the upcoming schedule. But if the Canes are relying on the News and Observer to do their marketing for them, therein lies the problem, not the solution, in my opinion. Would it be a big surprise that people outside the News and Observer's typical distribution area know little or nothing about the schedule?

And what about people who don't read the paper? The News and Observer has been making cutbacks and laying people off because readership is down. The impact of front sports page coverage in the local paper isn't as meaningful as it once was. What happens if the N&O cuts back their hockey coverage when the college football and basketball seasons start? It could be slim pick'ns for Hurricanes related news, even for fans in the local area.

So what can be done about regional marketing? In the short term, it would be nice to at least have state-wide radio and television coverage. I'm not talking about the mountains, I would concentrate on the immediate surrounding areas first, as well as Charlotte.

Hurricanes games are broadcast on television by Fox Sports South, which has also signed on to broadcast Carolina Bobcats games this season. Since some Bobcats games run simultaneously with Hurricanes games, the network will be forced to show regional coverage which will probably mean that fans outside the triangle will be shutout on hockey coverage again. We will have to see how that works.

In the long term, it would be great if at sometime in the future the Canes minor league affiliate was located in state. The Charlotte Checkers have a huge following and play in Bobcats arena. How nice if fans could track prospects in state and follow their activity as they moved between Raleigh and Charlotte? You would have Hurricanes fans traveling to Charlotte to watch the Checkers, and vice versa. Perhaps that scenario makes too much sense?

If Charlotte isn't feasible, than how about Greensboro? I think the Canes undervalue and underestimate the potential success that this type of partnership could have on marketing the team throughout other regions in the state.

Let's take a quick look at some of the other poll results.

Statewide, 10% of residents said that if given free tickets, they would attend a Hurricanes game over a Bobcats game, UNC basketball, Duke basketball, NASCAR race, or Carolina Panthers game. The Canes beat out the Bobcats who only had 5% and came pretty close to Duke which garnered 13%. I don't think these are bad results at all.

In the local area code, the number jumps to 23%, second only to the Tarheels 27%. The NFL Panthers dropped to 13%. Again in my opinion, these are very respectable numbers for the Hurricanes.

Finally, one result in the survey which seemed to surprise a few people was that more woman enjoyed hockey than men. It was by a slim margin, but females held the day.

Judging from the emails, comments, and messages that I receive related to this blog, I have long suspected that the margin was about 50/50 between men and women hockey fans in the area. Yet, several hockey blogs and sports blogs in general seem to focus only on the male demographic. They continually show "girlie" pics as some sort of marketing strategy to enhance site popularity.

While I enjoy looking at scantily clad women as much as the next guy, why take the chance of offending half of your audience on your so-called "hockey" blog? I don't get it, and don't partake in that here. Lady hockey fans are just as welcome as the guys at Canes Country, and always will be.

I have probably upset enough people for one article, so it's time to sign off. Happy Weekend!