NHL's Panthers Poke Fun at Themselves With Faux Campaign

Effort Featuring Super-Agent Rosenhaus Sparks Buzz, but Will It Get Fans in Seats?

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Depending on how you look at it, this campaign is either brilliant and innovative, or misleading and dull. One thing it's not, however, is lacking in buzz.

The National Hockey League's Florida Panthers unveiled a campaign last week in which sports super-agent Drew Rosenhaus -- he of the Burger King and ESPN commercials -- announced that he had been retained by fans of the hockey team to renegotiate season-ticket prices for the 2009-10 season that begins in October. Mr. Rosenhaus first made the announcement on his Twitter feed, then followed with a traditional press release that included quotes from himself and Florida Panthers advisory board member and season-ticket holder Nat Levine. The Panthers quickly followed with their own Twitter message saying the team had no comment.

Several media outlets and blogs initially reported the announcement, albeit some with a dose of skepticism.

In reality, the Panthers hired Mr. Rosenhaus for the campaign in which he persuades management to lower season-ticket prices. The initial announcement last week was followed by a viral campaign that included video on YouTube and FloridaPanthers.com of Mr. Rosenhaus "negotiating" with team management. (The team is owned by Sunrise Sports & Entertainment.) Today, the team officially declared that the "negotiations" with Mr. Rosenhaus have concluded, and that a new season-ticket pricing structure was put in place that includes a $7 per game upper-bowl season ticket, and a $35 per game lower-bowl season ticket.

Campaign to continue
The campaign will continue over the next two months with media buys on TV, radio and in print, featuring Mr. Rosenhaus (who was the inspiration for sports agent Bob Sugar in the film "Jerry Maguire") talking about the benefits and affordable pricing he has secured for Panthers fans.

"It's an exciting and captivating concept, and the advertising spots are really very entertaining," said Panthers President Michael Yormark. "First of all, we knew simply by having Drew Rosenhaus involved in our campaign that we would capture the attention of fans and media outside our usual circle. That said, beginning it virally was very important, as it allowed us to steadily raise the awareness of our campaign through those channels that we don't normally have access to. ... Now it's time to supplement that through some more traditional outlets, and we think the TV commercials and radio spots are going to engage and entertain the sports fans that we are looking to capture."

"From a pure brand-messaging platform, 'faux' campaigns done well can be very successful," said Jim Spinello, VP-digital services and youth culture for Chicago-based sports-marketing firm Revolution. He added: "By leveraging Rosenhaus' digital reach, the Panthers can engage younger fans on platforms that they are getting a lion's share of their information from. Taken in the right context, I'm a big fan of tongue-in-cheek campaigns like these and think they can build brand equity."

Michael A. Neuman, president of New York-based Amplify Sports and Entertainment, agreed.

"It's a brilliant idea," he said. "Recession pricing is a very relevant topic now and besides poking fun at themselves, the Panthers are addressing the issue head on, with humor."

But not everybody had the same reaction.

Will it succeed?
"The execution is rather dull," said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Partners. "But ultimately, the success of the campaign will be determined by whether or not the price reductions and other fan benefits are significant enough to motivate fans to buy."

The Panthers have struggled to draw fans to the BankAtlantic Center, despite being located in Sunrise, Florida, less than 45 minutes from the large population centers of Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The team averaged 15,600 fans per game last season at the 19,500-seat facility and hasn't made the NHL playoffs in eight years.

David Hyde, sports columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, recently ripped the team's ad effort. "They're really saying: 'We know we don't have a team to market, or any players you're interested in watching and no one wants to pay our ticket prices anymore, so let's push the humor to the outer edges so our fans get a chuckle even if they don't really understand it,'" he wrote.

Mr. Yormark said the team has already achieved great success judging by the national response to the campaign.

"If we simply sent out a press release ourselves or released a statement on our Twitter, the impression would likely have been limited more to hockey fans and the media that covers us regularly," he said.

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