Thursday, February 26, 2009

Adventures in Marketing (or Why Club Scarlet and Hockey and Heels Aren't As Bad As We Make Them Out to Be)

Talk Hockey to Me, Wrap Around Curl and Puck Huffers, among other blogs, spent yesterday discussing the new Club Scarlet website, an marketing effort by the Washington Capitals to reach out to female fans by objectifying members of the Capitals as hot guys, and explaining the basics of the game. I'm on the fence about this and an effort in the same vein by the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins - Hockey and Heels - an event to teach women about hockey while they are at a day spa. While I understand the initial knee-jerk reaction to these efforts by female sports fans, they're not intended to offend.

I'll be blunt. There have been a lot of things I have done in my twenty-seven years that were solely motivated by the attractiveness of guys. Joining indoor track in eighth grade. Becoming a fan of the Steve Young led San Francisco 49ers even though I lived in Buffalo Bills country. Joining Hall Government at Binghamton even though I had sworn off being involved after transferring (haha.) Call me shallow, but I would rather call it primitive. Since the beginning of time, heterosexual females like males, and will find ways to be near or see attractive ones.

So to say that efforts like Club Scarlet and their marketing of the Capitals as a team of attractive men that look like they belong in the now-defunct Playgirl is horribly misguided is horribly wrong. There is a reason why in college many advertising majors have psych minors - because they want to make a convincing and successful appeal to those they are advertising towards, and what better way to do so by using psychological elements of human nature. Therefore, you want to draw more female fans, you appeal to their natural desire to seek out attractive members of the opposite sex.

As for the arguement that efforts like Club Scarlet and "Hockey and Heels" dumb down the sport of hockey to a female population, I say good for the teams for taking what can be a confusing game that is not popularly played in the majority of the United States and making an effort to explain it. This level of basic explanation needs to happen not just towards females, however, but accessible and marketed towards a variety of populations as well. For example, last Friday night at the Boston University - Northeastern game, the stranger borrowing my season ticket neighbors seats for the evening had never seen a hockey game in his life. He was from California, and understood soccer well, so when he asked me to explain the game to him, I used that sport as a basis to explain hockey. If teams took the opportunity to educate fans more - maybe during a game break by having an amusing quick Jumbotron video, or through features on their websites - that would only build their fan bases.

And last but not least, the arguments about Club Scarlet brought up the neverending discussion of the pink teamwear that is prevalent in the NHL Shop. Yes, I think many pink options look somewhat tacky. But believe it or not, it sells. I was interviewing a new sportswear company founder for my blog a few months back, and I asked him about why, among his great looking female shirts for the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox and Celtics, he had included a pink Celtics shirt. "Despite the outcry about 'pink hats', we and other companies have done extensive market research regarding designs and products, and the pink stuff actually sells." he said. "I'm not going to not carry a style of shirt that sells, especially as a new brand."

In these economic times, which despite what any governmental official says are far from over, sports leagues need to make a drastic effort to reach out to every potential fan base possible. Efforts such as Club Scarlet and "Hockey and Heels" are means of doing so, means of keeping sports leagues that are all at the edge of becoming obsolete in a society whose entertainment budgets are becoming non-existent.


Shan said...

Either you're making the argument that because this kind of marketing works, that it's right. Or you're not addressing the central point; it's inappropriate and wrong.

No one doubts that beer commercials with supermodels hanging out with average guys works to sell beer. Or that the Axe commercials with hot women desperately attracted to the pheromones of that deodorant, obviously it sells.

The issue is, now you're taking a product like hockey and subjecting it to the same shallow ploys and that has to be insulting to women and anyone who loves hockey. The message being if you're not enjoying the game for the game, then come enjoy it for the side benefits. And the additional message is that women largely cannot enjoy the game for the game.

And the appreciation of sport should not be something we draw gender lines across. It's a slippery slope. It's also saying Yes, It's Okay to be a Puck-Bunny and if you extend that line of thinking then It's Okay to Watch Beach Volleyball simply for the sake of Breasts.

There is a moral price to be paid if the NHL is willing to do anything to get more viewers.

As for explaining the game to newcomers, a gender neutral effort can be made to teach Hockey 101.

Simply put, let's not mix hockey and sex. It's bad enough that those beer commercials pay for and support the league.

And I'm not oblivious to the fact that there are fewer female fans than male fans. Would it be nice if people cared just as much about women's hockey as men's? Of course. But then, I wouldn't be waching THE Montreal Canadiens and it wouldn't be THE Stanley Cup. Personally, I'd have a hard time getting into any other league, save worldwide competition. But the gender discrepancy isn't a "problem" that needs fixing at any cost, but it's something that can be balanced out the more people get to appreciate hockey in general. In Canada, more people are exposed to hockey, more people are fans. I didn't even try to make my mom a fan--hell, I definitely didn't want her to become a Leaf fan--but one day she got into it and enjoys watching. We need to start believing in the greatness of the game and use that, not shallow, sexist money-grabbing techniques.

The best way to bring in fans is the long hard road of grassroots work, getting more kids playing the game and falling in love with it. New-fangled jerseys ain't gonna cut it.

Doogie2K said...

Coming at this from a male perspective, I really don't see what there is to be offended about. They're not talking down to you, the female hockey fan; they're talking down to (or simplfiying for, depending on your interpretation) the female non-fan, in an effort to get their attention or their understanding.

The issue is, now you're taking a product like hockey and subjecting it to the same shallow ploys and that has to be insulting to women and anyone who loves hockey.

But by that logic, beer and car commercials are shallow ploys that are insulting to men and anyone who loves beer and cars. Sex sells, and as far as I'm concerned, it has to go both ways. I've been hearing the feminist groups on my university campus complain about these sorts of things for years, the double-standards and what-not. Why complain now that it's being evened up, so to speak? I'd rather see more sophisticated advertising going both ways, but I think we've established by now that ours is a shallow society.

The message being if you're not enjoying the game for the game, then come enjoy it for the side benefits.

Tex Rickard used to parade ambulances through the streets of Manhattan to draw people to MSG in the 1920s, with the implicit promise that there was going to be a bloodbath on the ice. It's the same thing; you're using something that is tangential to the core of your product to draw someone in, so that they can experience the whole product and maybe find something for them within that core.

And the additional message is that women largely cannot enjoy the game for the game.

I guess you can interpret it that way, but again, it's the same as appealing to macho men by showing some dude get his teeth punched out and saying, "WASN'T THAT AWESOME?!" You're saying to them that they can't enjoy the game without some extraneous act of over-the-top violence. I dunno, I can't get behind decrying one form of shallow marketing without decrying the other. If you do, however, then I'm totally with you: I'd rather market the speed and skill of the game in tandem with, or even ahead of, the rough stuff.

The best way to bring in fans is the long hard road of grassroots work, getting more kids playing the game and falling in love with it. New-fangled jerseys ain't gonna cut it.

As a long-term strategy, I agree. CBC's online transmissions of HNIC with Punjabi or Mandarin play-by-play are a great way to reach out to immigrant communities in the NHL markets (especially places like Vancouver and Toronto) that have no heritage with the game in their homeland. That, along with equipment makers dropping their prices (hah), will obviously do more to address things like the declining minor-hockey registration in Toronto than pictures of players with their shirts off will. That being said, it only takes one good game to fall in love with the sport, and whether they get people to that game by speaking to them in their own language, using their kids as a hook, or flashing beefcake at, it's all the same in the end.

wrap around curl said...

First of all the font in the post is ridiculously small.

Second, being called horribly misguided and wrong is never nice. It's one thing to counter an argument but attack isn't cute.

I don't have to like the Scarlet Caps because I like to think women are better than that. I like to think that women aren't as they appear in commercials which are "diamonds or else..." "cleaning is hard..." "I love shopping!" I dislike the approach of the SC. I am all for more fans, but I believe in people discovering things organically, not because it was shoved on them. Just because something is popular doesn't make it a good thing. Take wedding movies for example, they are a huge money grab but in terms of being positive, they aren't. The essential plot of Bride Wars is "bitches be crazy" and will turn into vile creatures because of weddings.

Doogie2K said...

The essential plot of Bride Wars is "bitches be crazy" and will turn into vile creatures because of weddings.

My mom works Gift Registry at the Bay, and was ordered to come in an hour and a half early, because one of her brides was being an unreasonable bitch. This isn't an inaccurate premise in the slightest.

Chad said...

I don't see how anything is "being forced on" anyone here. It's a link on the Caps website after all... don't make this out to be more than it is. If you're interested in joining this group of people or hearing what they have to say, click the link and enjoy it. If you're a tried and true female hockey fan and feel that it's beneath you, good for you. Don't click on it and enjoy the rest of the website like the rest of us. Accept the fact that someone other than you may want to see that. If they don't get a big response, then it won't last anyway. BTW, the controversy is probably just helping their cause.

Katherine said...

Wrap Around Curl - I'm not calling you yourself horribly misguided. I respect you and your comments on the subject. I just don't think accusing the Captials of being sexist for promoting their product - which all brands and their teams need to do in this difficult financial time by any means nesccsary - is correct.

You promote your local USHL team by actively discussing the hotness of the players on your blog everyday, which I read, because I think it's snarky and funny. Isn't Club Scarlet just a pro team recognizing that females already think players are good looking?

Katherine said...

Also, I linked to those sites as a reference, not to specifically address any particular arguement. You all were first on the story and I wanted to give you all your due. It is your sites where I first read this news, so like a good writer, I named my sources. It's the interwebs - everyone is allowed their say.

Kimberlass said...

Have a female website. Give women a place to find a niche and feel like the sport can be for them too.

Don't make it looked like crushed velvet, make the main features basic information and glamour shots, and give it an absurd name.

The execution is the only insulting thing about it. If you're going to put Hockey 101 in, put it in a drop down menu. Don't make the whole site shadowy and "mysterious" like whorehouse. At least put some god damned stats on the front page or include hockey headlines instead of exclusively Hockey 'n Heels headlines.

If it were a fan site I would ignore it and be fine with it and never think twice. This is the official Capitals statement on female hockey fans. This is what the NHL thinks of you. Publicly.

And they, quite frankly, need to get a fucking grip.

Nadine said...

It's not a controversy so much as assessment on the part of the intended audience, even those of us who are not primarily Caps fans.

If criticism now can help develop it into a better site and avoid these early pitfalls for any other clubs that initiate such a venture, I'm all for us dissecting the damn thing.

While it's nice to say we shouldn't need this, I keep flashing back to myself in my younger days. I remember how it felt to live away from a major hockey market, where few people understood the game, and even fewer women/girls knew anything about it. Having a site dedicated to my perspective, and one that didn't make me feel like a puck bunny looking at it, would have been really nice. (And if it had a way for me to be in contact with other female fans, even better.)

So, in principle, I've relaxed my initial reaction...which was so negative I just couldn't put it into words. In terms of aesthetics and content execution, my opinion continues to be that the site leaves a lot to be desired and developed.

Gray said...

I see this quite simply; if I don't find it appealing, I won't frequent the site.

What I find appealing is different than what other women find appealing. I know many women who watch football or baseball just for the hot guys. Don't discount how serious some of these ladies get about the sport either. They may come for the hot guys, but many transform into knowledgeable, informed fans. That wasn't my route to sports, but that doesn't make it any less valid.

I own a business and I have to market it a certain way to get the people I think are my target market in and looking and buying. That means promoting my biz in a way I might not personally find appealing (in the sense that it wouldn't lure me in to but said product), but that appeals to those I am trying to attract. Or in a way that I THINK would appeal to them. That's just how business is.

Maybe I don't like the strategy the NHL is taking, but I do know it WILL work. It will lure some women in, it will give them a reason to enjoy hockey, or to permit their significant others to enjoy it, and it will result in money going into the NHL's wallet. That's the bottom line, right there.

Marie said...

I still don't quite know what to make of this. I think I'm confused about all of it because of Kimberlass's comment of "Don't make the whole site shadowy and "mysterious" like whorehouse. At least put some god damned stats on the front page or include hockey headlines instead of exclusively Hockey 'n Heels headlines." When I first went to the website I was so confused about what it was. On one hand it seems like they're trying to do good and help female fans come together, talk about hockey, and learn about hockey. Yet, on the other hand, it's almost like they're trying to market how hot and sexy hockey players can be.

I don't think they're dumbing it down for female fans. I went to the Hockey and High Heels event in LA that was held here in Oct 2007 and it was so much fun. I was worried that it was going to be so lame (I mainly went for the on-ice instruction and meeting Luc Robitaille), but I was pleasantly surprised to see how many hardcore female fans were there. And, yes, of course we talked about how attractive some of the guys are, although it didn't help that that night they were handing out the Kings calendar.

Overall, I suppose I don't like the execution of the website. I think it could be a good thing and perhaps down the line it'll evolve into something great. Based on the comments on the site it seems like a lot of ladies are happy to have that kind of community.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with dumbing stuff down, but it's not like the NHL or Caps are the first ones to do this. I hear ads for "women only" events relating to football, baseball, etc. all the time. Do I need something like that? No. Do I think there are some dang pretty guys playing these sports? Yup.

When I go to Stars games, I'm not really thrilled with dancers and ice girls, because they seem pretty pointless. Because hockey's a sport that has a large percentage of male fans, they still feel the need to have scantily-clad women when the speed of the game (and the occasional fight) should be enough.

For the woman who sat next to me planning her wedding at the Pens vs Stars game, this kind of stuff might make her a fan. I'm not really going to bother (unless there's a shirtless pic of Mike Green...hey, the guys get ice girls!) :)