Article By: Brad Smith and Doug Pitkin Photo Credit: Post Game Media
Every business is facing the challenge of reaching the next generation of customers. Whether it is a car manufacturer or a soft drink company; each one is trying to catch the attention and gain their loyalty. With new technology, peoples’ attention is being bombarded with a world of entertainment and distractions. Gone are the days of having a handful of TV channels to watch.
The competition of attention is on.
The social construct of North America has been shifting as well. We have never had so many different cultures mixing into our cities and towns. While this is a benefit in so many ways, it creates a challenge for some. Hockey is an intricate part of our culture in North America, but with so many new immigrants joining us, it is a sport they know nothing about.
So, the challenge is, how do you reach these kids? How do you teach them the amazing game of hockey? With the world at their fingertips, how do you make them the next generation of hockey fans?
On January 3rd in Toronto, Ontario, the Toronto Maple Leafs took on this challenge by hosting “The Next Gen Game”. Season ticket holders were encouraged to give their seats to kids they know. Youth focused media, such as YTV, were covering the festivities. Kids were part of every area of the game, whether it was the arena announcer, in-stands talent, music room co-ordinator, or broadcast talent; the kids took over. Even on the benches, there was a kid beside every coach and trainer.
They spent months preparing the in-arena and on-ice videos to appeal to younger generations. Every Leaf player had an avatar (computer generated model) of their likeness that was shown when they were introduced and when they scored. Before the game started, they used the on-ice video projections to turn the ice rink into a table hockey game, a Pac-man game, and a video hockey game. The kids in the crowd went wild!
One thing I noticed covering games in Toronto is that when the home team is trailing, there is a quietness that spreads throughout the crowd. Well this game against the Minnesota Wild was one of those games, but the kids in the crowd didn’t stop cheering for their team. They were so happy to be there and be a FAN that the score didn’t phase them like it seems to do with the adults. It made the game so much more enjoyable for everyone, even the players commented after. Plus, the image of seeing fathers and sons cheering together was so moving, and something I hope we see more of.
The idea of involving young people in major league hockey has been done before. Back in 1936, Foster Hewitt, broadcaster for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, would give his son, Bill Hewitt, one minute of radio airtime each year on Young Canada Hockey Night. This tradition lasted 11 years and spurred Bill to eventually follow his father’s footsteps. It seems that once young people are introduced to the game, a passion starts to build within them.
So, the question is, how can we make this happen more often? How can we bring in more kids to the games? What is stopping them from coming now and becoming life-long hockey fans?
I spoke to a variety of families attending the Next Gen Game to ask them those questions. For some, it was distance, they lived too far away to attend much. For others, it was because their lives are too busy to go to games (or even watch on TV). The majority answered the same way, it was too expensive to attend games. Most of them were there only because someone generous gave them their tickets for that game. With ticket prices averaging well over $100.00 per seat, plus parking, food, and souvenirs; the expense of an average family ends up almost reaching $1000.00 for one game.
How can we make attending hockey games more accessible to these kids? The Next Gen Game was a great success, but it is only a step towards what is needed to keep the fan base growing. There is more competition for our attention than ever before, and we will need to think of new ways of using new technology to reach out and bring in these kids. In my opinion, this is the only way to reach the next generation.