Understandably there's been plenty of debate on what the Avalanche organization does in terms of personnel and their approach to winning hockey games. However, there's plenty of improvement for the ownership, Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE) to improve the Avalanche product beyond the play on the ice. This is one fans opinion on what needs improvement and ideas on how to improve them.
There's been plenty of scuttlebutt in town about how KSE has diverted their financial attentions from the Avalanche and used those finances towards the Nuggets (one of KSE's other assets). I don't believe KSE has lowered any of its financial commitment towards the Avalanche. They've gone from committing 60 million a year in salaries in a non-capped collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to a salary cap since 2004. Last season the Avalanche entered the year with approximately over 4 million in salary cap space left. However, fans also must remember that Joe Sakic did not commit to a new contract until nearly the end of August which was of course well past the July 1st UFA frenzy. There was also the consideration of reserving some cap space for our favorite spleenless Swede. However, he teased the Avalanche with his decision until January 30th when he concluded the Avs sucked his foot just wasn't ready. The other thing a lot of casual Avalanche observers forget is that KSE committed money to run a yearly summer development camp in Denver for their prospects. They've also been keeping United Airlines in business with their affiliation to the new AHL team in Lake Erie. They committed to significant contracts for Foote, Liles, Stastny and even flushed $600,000 down the drain on Per Ledin (the average AHL salary is closer to $60,000 to $80,000). There has been some concern when KSE laid off an approximate two dozen employees and then released this statement;
"We recently have been forced to make difficult financial decisions during these trying economic times to decrease costs. Because of the numerous economic challenges faced at KSE and all businesses locally, nationally and globally, we are saddened to announce that we have made staff reductions."
Then again, Kroenke just dropped 60 more million to increase his stake in the Arsenal soccer team (Sorry, football club). I think as Avalanche fans you have to appreciate the fact you cannot pick your owners (reference Colorado Rockies). We are fortunate to have an owner that will support his team and spend money to make the product better. I can't make any suggestions here, except that KSE should continue to recognize that despite the gate numbers this year, there is a large and dedicated fan base for this Avalanche team. If you build a good product we will reward you with our loyalty and consequently our wallets. Of course there are suckers like us die hard fans who will continue to do so regardless of the product.
As most know, Altitude is owned by KSE. They have their own TV network and of course they run their broadcast on several radio affiliates like Mile High Sports radio locally in Denver. So the good news first, Altitude ratings are very good for the Avalanche despite the gate numbers at the Pepsi Center. The actual television broadcasts and radio telecasts have improved in their professionalism and "production values". When the network first launched it was certainly armature hour in regards to the studios, graphics etc... Altitude has made good strides in becoming a professional broadcaster, rather than a typical local sports network that flirt with production values on par with a PBS broadcast.
Now, the bad news.. Altitude has a serious problem that is inherent to the broadcaster owning the teams in which they cover. The broadcasters are unabashed homers of the worst kind. It's OK to have a bias for the team you cover, but it's another thing to so obviously pander to the positive outlook that it borders on the surreal. When your broadcasters can't muster a single critical thing to say, we start to distrust everything they say. Does Paul Stastny really have great vision on the ice? I want to think that's true but you just told me earlier that Raycroft is having a solid year. The sad part is, we know from the days on Fox Sports that these same broadcasters have the ability to offer good constructive critiques of the Avalanche. However, since the move to Altitude it's sunshine ALL THE TIME. I got news for the brass at Altitude, fans in this town are not idiots. If you don't begin to gain traction with some credibility here, you will be past the point of no return. You'll become an on going parody and consequently less than what you could be. You can be something more than that, you can actually contribute to the product instead of becoming background noise.
Peter McNab and Mike Haynes are great at what they do. However, they need to know they can offer a criticism of the play on the ice. I know they can do it because they both did so before they worked for Altitude. Let them call a spade a spade. Anything less is insulting our intelligence as fans.
Norm Jones and Marc Moser aren't as good without Mike Haynes doing the radio. Unlike others I like Moser but have never been real high on Jones. With that being said, that's simply personal preference. The fact is, while radio is a little better than the TV broadcast in so far as any criticisms of the team they still toe the company line. How is anyone listening on the radio supposed to get a feel for the game when it's all sunshine and rainbows on the broadcast? You would think that Avalanche found themselves as the 3rd worst team in the NHL by pure happenstance and bad luck. Respect your fans by trusting them with a straight call, that's all I'm asking.
Because I'm a giver, here are my suggestions in no particular order:
- Broadcast both home and away games in HD. I'm sure there are technical challenges I don't fully appreciate but it sure feels like it's time to go HD across the board. KSE needs to market the Avalanche and High Definition sells hockey, period.
- Broadcast all the preseason games. The Avalanche are picking 3rd in the draft and you know you're going to market the hell out of this kid. We really, really want to see these preseason games. I know that Altitude gets crazy ratings for Kiana's Flex Appeal but I'm guessing Avalanche preseason broadcasts are going to do a bit better.
- Post your Avalanche material that can't be found on Center Ice to a video sharing site like Youtube, Hulu etc... Avalanche fans across the world want to see Lappy play Pictionary on Avalanche All Access, trust me on this. Postgame, pregame and specials should all be somewhere. You market your product and if you do it right you gain some revenue as well.
- Altitude needs their Don Cherry / Charle Barkley between periods. It offers Altitude an avenue to make their between period material WAY more interesting. It's classic good cop / bad cop and it simply works. Develop a "coaches corner" of your own and get someone who will break down film and be critical of the team if it's called for.
- Do not, under any circumstance run a correspondent piece at a local bar ever again. The forced cheering and delayed reaction to the camera are pure torture.
- Avalanche All Access nights where McNabb stands between the benches is great stuff, don’t' stop what works.
- Consider broadcasting some Lake Erie Monster games, that's a pretty easy sell and markets your prospects.
- For radio, I hate to say it but you need better talent at the play by play. Norm is a really great guy but he's a color guy pure and simple. Might I suggest you get someone with a little spice to their delivery? I understand not everyone can be Randy Moller but man if he was, I'd listen to that every game.
- The move from The Fan 104.3 FM to Mile High Sports Radio on 1510 AM was a total disaster. At night, major sections of the Denver population can't get the broadcast. It looks like things are changing soon, so if the higher wattage doesn't fix the issue get a back up plan STAT.
The Pepsi Center (ie, going to the game):
The Pepsi Center is a great venue that has hosted some tremendous games and it's hard to remember for Avs fans, but The Can can get crazy loud (watch the Nuggets playoffs).
A visit to the rink needs to improve. The hot air balloons dropping gift cards to the lower bowl and the occasional free T-shirt toss just doesn't cut it anymore, not when the team doesn't sell itself. The crew is doing the same shticks on the jumbo-tron, and the entertainment values have actually gone down. "Back in the day" a visit to an Avalanche game consisted of the Avs skating through a giant mountain lowered from the rafters (now gone), the fan favorite crazy dance to "Thank God I'm a country boy" (hard to explain, you'd know it if you saw it (now gone)), The "I've seen a lot of crazy stuff in my life but that was awesome!" clip from Tommy Boy (gone), The Howler mascot (gone), the two planted KSE employees who wore the crazy pom pom heads (gone), The live bands like Opie Gone Bad (gone). Look, I'm not saying all of these were good ideas but what I am saying is that it seems that someone with the Pepsi center just stopped trying.
It's not just the adults that looked bored to tears, the real litmus test is that there are a ton of kids who are bored to tears. Hey, the Price is Right game you play with some adult in the crowd? Yeah, the kids have no idea what the hell is going on. The dance off, kiss cam and shell game stuff are all good standbys but they are pure low effort affairs. Who came up with this intro back in the day? (Embrace the unintended comedy of Darby Hendrickson and cringe at the level of talent on that team). They took a current pop culture theme and nailed the intro. Now? Some canned hard rock music to some highlights before the Avs skate into some twirling graphics. There's nothing memorable there and as I said before, it just seems like someone isn't trying very hard. For the record, when your team is the 3rd worst in the NHL, that’s when your marketing team should be killing it.
- For the love of all that's holy, find different bump music for when the other team scores. The death metal riff for a team like the Avs didn't inspire the crowd nor the team. It turned in to a siren song of despair. You can hear it after this goal a bit, best I could find. It was so depressing when it was played, the fact that no one with KSE could recognize this just baffles me. Oh how I hate that song.
- Music is a matter of taste of course but if the Avs want to establish a tradition and appeal to the soul of every true hockey fan they would get an organ. It's retro but organs for hockey venues are straight up fool proof.
- Mascots are goofy and not really part of the Avalanche front office vibe. But mascots are for kids, like ice girls are for Dads. Not the unprofessional message you want to send? Well look at it this way, Detroit, Calgary and even Toronto have mascots. Kids love them and kids are bored to tears at Avalanche games of late. If I may be so bold, my idea is to recruit Rocky. Yeah, he's already an NBA mascot but he's already a KSE employee and honestly he's the modern day San Diego Chicken. He's absolutely brilliant and kids as well as adults are glued to his antics. When the Nuggets are on the road he can work Avalanche home games. He may not be up to it but you never know, ask him. But I do know that he's pure gold. Give him a raise to work Avs games.
- When you aren't selling the building out... you might want to send out the word to your ushers that after the 1st period you don't need to check tickets for lower bowl access. It looks good on TV if people can move down and it makes it louder on the ice for the home team.
- Establish some Pepsi Center traditions. During the preseason the staff experimented with playing "The good old Hockey game" with the lyrics and bouncing ball thingy. It wasn't perfect but everyone (and more importantly the kids) could all sing the chorus and frankly it's just cool to sing "Sakic scores!". It disappeared for some reason. But it got the crowd together and there’s nothing that kills a building like an arena full of individuals.
- I'm a big fan of pop culture and I think it sells. Matrix intro in 2002? Perfect. Tommy Boy outtake, fantastic. Someone inventive might create a "Hello, I'm an Avalanche fan. And I'm a Detroit fan" (Mac vs PC) parody. Someone creative could do something with a Family Guy clip, an original clip or *gasp* a Slap Shot clip.
Bloggers, Twitter, and the Internet OH MY!:
The Avalanche organization has evolved quite a bit from their early years of ownership under COMSAT. In particular, for those of us that paid attention back in those days, their web presence evolved from a hack job ("Edge on the Web"! Um, 14 years later and I still don’t get it) to a better version to the current www.avalanche.nhl.com page. Back in the day Angélique (Jori), myself and some others did our best to investigate prospects, moderate message boards and create some sort of online communities where none existed. Now, the Avalanche provide a lot more information. Some of the cynical among us might conclude the Avs did so only because they had to being part of the www.NHL.com network. The cynical might conclude the Avs started posting prospect stories and message boards because other places were already doing so to fill a void. But, the bottom line is that they have put in a better online effort to inform the fans so even the cynical (who me?) have to admit things are much, much better than they used to be.
With all that said, there is plenty of room for improvement. Historically the Avalanche are pretty much reactive to technology, rather than proactive. You know what, that’s OK. Old school management gets a pass, kind of like your grandparents using the VCR. But the time has passed to embrace some of the things your new players understand but you do not. Just as one example, just look at your competition at http://capitals.nhl.com/.
Like your grandkids, I’m here to help:
- Blogs. You do not like them… maybe. I can’t really be sure if the Avs pay any attention to them but I got news for you, fans do. The Capitals and other NHL teams provide links to established bloggers. You might consider it because despite the unsavory reputation, they promote your team even when they are the third worst team in the NHL.
- Facebook, Twitter and social networking sites. Like you I’ve avoided these for some time but this is progress (apparently). The Caps have a Facebook page. Ovechkin uses Twitter (my favorite so far was the deadpan, totally serious post of "Getting ready to win 3 games" when they were down 3-1 to NY). Every one of your players under twenty know what these things are and could post on a blog, send a "tweet" or update a Facebook page. If fans are interested, it’s another avenue for you to market your team, post links for ticket sales and merchandise etc…
- Put up a webcam for training camp and rookie camp. Oh, and you can advertise under the video. "Always Be Closing"! (You know, the ABCs. Or, in your case Always Be Selling. ARNASON PUT THE COFFE DOWN!!).
- http://youtube.com/user/WashingtonCapitals is a an example of what I talked about with Altitude previously. Post your material, sell your product.
- Some things aren’t even Web 2.0. Share desktop themes, wallpapers, ringtones, screensavers, etc…
- I’ll keep this real simple, Avalanche mobile website. I know all you executives with KSE rock a Blackberry, you know why you need it. Heck, develop a simple iphone application with the Avs schedule, of course include hyperlinks in the calendar to sell tickets.
- Post the streaming audio of the games from your site. Avs fans from around the world find the radio broadcasts elsewhere, make it easy on them. Did I mention the ABCs?
- Leverage technology to help your already excellent work in the Colorado community. Broadcast the Burgundy and White game in a telethon format. Put up an online auction and raise more money.
In sum, now is not the time to sit on your laurels. This last year the sales slogan was "The Avalanche Experience". The Avalanche experience needs some improvement. KSE needs to improve everything from the Altitude broadcast to a visit to the Pepsi Center. The hard truth of the matter is, the Avalanche Experience is no longer easy money. It’s time to get progressive and market this team in ways you’ve never done before.