Saturday night’s Carolina Hurricanes game against the Dallas Stars got started at 8:00 p.m., an hour later than usual. That hour delay gave the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast an hour’s head start, and inadvertently set the stage for a rallying cry that has taken on a life of its own over the past five days.
In the first intermission on CBC’s broadcast, just as the Canes’ warmup was finishing, resident bloviator Don Cherry took his now-infamous swipe at the Hurricanes. And all of a sudden, Canes director of digital marketing Dan LaTorraca told Canes Country, social media lit up with “bunch of jerks” references. What followed was a breakneck 72 hours, culminating in T-shirts being sold - and sold, and sold - at Tuesday’s game against the Rangers.
“We saw mentions of Don Cherry and the Hurricanes popping up here and there, and then someone finally uploaded the video, and we got to listen to it,” says LaTorraca. “Our first discussion was ‘how are we going to address this?’ In that conversation, we said ‘wouldn’t it be fun if we made shirts around this too?’”
But the Canes’ social media team was juggling that conversation with other responsibilities. After all, there was a Hurricanes game going on at the same time, and they couldn’t take up too much time that drew them away from the game at hand. In the meantime, though, they changed the team’s twitter bio to capitalize on the sudden attention, and that got people talking. “Without publishing a single tweet,” LaTorraca says, “we were able to influence the conversation and narrative.”
Once the game finished, though, the social media and marketing team got together, and decided that they’d try to pull off the idea to get shirts printed. It quickly became evident that it was going to be a long night.
After a brief meeting with the social media team and hearing their idea for the shirts, marketing director Mike Forman ran the idea up the flagpole to team president Don Waddell and owner Tom Dundon. Their approval took no more than five minutes. Just after midnight, LaTorraca reached out to Jamie Mottram, the president of BreakingT, a T-shirt design and printing company that the team had worked with on a smaller project earlier in the season. Mottram responded within ten minutes, and the next morning the team had a design ready and waiting.
It was a whole new world for the Hurricanes, so much coming together in such a short time.
“I don’t think the Hurricanes have been in such an awesome position to capitalize in years past,” LaTorraca says. “We’d take our time, talk about it the next day, say ‘can we do this?’”
Time was of the essence. If the Hurricanes were going to capitalize on their viral attention, they knew they couldn’t dawdle. The nature of viral happenings meant that the “bunch of jerks” would likely be consigned to the dustbin of social media history if the Canes didn’t act quickly to strike.
Adding to the time crunch: the fact that Monday was a holiday. Even though they still had two full days before the next game, many businesses were closed for the long weekend. As luck would have it, Raleigh Screen Print was not one of those, and the Hurricanes had BreakingT send the shirt design directly to the screen printer, who quickly turned the presses on Monday morning.
Once they turned on, they just kept running, and running, and running. The Canes started taking pre-orders for shirts at $32 a pop Monday morning, and before long they had blown through their initial run. Eventually, LaTorraca says, the team had around 5,000 shirts printed, saw initial orders in the first ten hours from 41 states and multiple countries, and the run would continue as long as new orders kept coming in.
The team had the shirts for sale at The Eye in time for Tuesday’s game, where they predictably sold out. The shirts are the top-selling item on the Hurricanes’ website. Even the players and their families got in on the act.
“They certainly seem enthused about it, and they’re happy about it because the fans are pumped about it too,” says LaTorraca. “These guys play with a lot of emotion, they play hard and, as they show with the Storm Surge celebration, they’re all in on engaging the fanbase. How the fans felt is very similar to how the players felt.”
With the team heading out on their annual Mentor’s Trip, on which close family members will join the players as they travel to Florida and Dallas the next two games, the Canes made sure the guests of honor would be honorary jerks too, giving them their own shirts to match the players they’re accompanying.
But will the “Bunch of Jerks” badge of honor (honour? It was started by a Canadian after all) persist? The time crunch was for good reason, and LaTorraca thinks that its popularity may start to wane after a couple of weeks. With the team making a playoff push, though, the viral moment may dissipate, but the sentiment is likely to remain.
“A Carolina-versus-the-world mentality is a great motivational tool,” LaTorraca says. “To get the fans really riled up in a positive way — nothing unifies a fanbase like the national media coming down on your team when they’re playing really well.”
The viral moment may get an extended shelf life if one of those media types doubles down and ignites the controversy all over again, but LaTorraca says that as of now the team has yet to fulfill an order to the headquarters of the CBC, attention D. Cherry. “We’ll definitely see about that.”
But they may want to send him a bouquet of flowers to thank him for making the Hurricanes the center of the hockey conversation, even for a brief minute, a place that the franchise has not been in many years and may not see again until the next time the stars align for a bunch of jerks that became the talk of the town.