Thrashers’ Tough Thoughts Turn to ‘Hockey Love’

ATLANTA – “Hockey love” is the theme of the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers’ new marketing campaign.

Print and radio advertising, created by Atlanta’s Blue Sky, addresses the issue troubling most pro sports expansion teams: How do you build attendance and loyalty for a team that gets drubbed two out of the three times it takes to the ice?

“The challenge is to provide fans with a full-rounded entertainment experience,” explained Derek Schiller, the Thrashers’ vice president of sales and marketing. “So whether the team wins or loses, the fans don’t leave the arena thinking negatively. ‘Hockey love’ embodies that experience precisely.”

The campaign, conceived by Blue Sky president Rob Farinella and copywriter Mike Schatz, cleverly mines pop, gospel and R&B forms (“If hockey love is wrong, I don’t want to be right,” states one print execution). It also uses pop culture icons and imagery to create a sense of emotional community, disconnected from the sometimes less-than-thrilling action taking place inside Philips Arena.

Comedian Mitch Hedberg’s voiceovers range in style from evangelical preacher to be-bop hipster.

“There’s something about hockey that pulls emotions,” said Farinella. “It’s a sport that resembles a love affair, either exhilarating or disappointing.”

Attendance this year, though slightly behind last year’s numbers, is still nearly 16,000 per game. That figure is rock solid for a Deep South team with an 18-28 record.

The campaign is so popular that samples of a line of “Hockey love” merchandise—T-shirts and boxer shorts—were snapped up by enthusiastic fans earlier this month

“Hockey love” follows an unlikely effort to sell the game as “combat”—tough with a losing team.

“It was important for us to have an ad initiative that was flexible,” said Schiller. “Gladiator would have gotten a little stale by now.”

Ads will run through April.