The Arizona Coyotes want you to know about who they are now, not who they used to be. They want you to know why jumping on their bandwagon will be worth the ride.
The Coyotes began sending those messages this month through a rebranding marketing campaign that attempts to prove they're reinventing themselves as a young and exciting team that isn't relocating and requests your attention.
Arizona has rolled out a 30-second television spot, a 96-second short film to run in Phoenix-area movie theaters, new digital experiences on its website and social media platforms, and an extensive community outreach program tying it in with the youth and amateur hockey programs in the Valley.
The campaign's focus is that the Coyotes and their fans are different, different is cool, and if you're not willing to jump on board, then it's your loss.
"We're done apologizing," Coyotes co-owner, president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said. "There has obviously been the situation with the League taking over, the bankruptcy, and it always seemed that this team was apologizing to people. You know what? We are unique. We have a unique fan base. You sit in the middle of a desert that is 100 degrees and it doesn't breed hockey on a regular basis, but everything is coming together now. It's a state of hockey mentality."
The marketing campaign uses phrases such as "a band of outsiders" and "apart from the rest" to describe the Coyotes and their fans. It says "if you're looking for your dad's Original Six, look somewhere else. That's not who we are, never will be."
Coyotes chief marketing officer John Pierce said the campaign has struck a chord with Coyotes fans.
"The most flattering thing I've heard on it is that an Arizona Coyotes fan watches it and says, 'That's me, I'm a little bit of an outsider too,'" Pierce said. "Aren't we all? Everybody in some way or another identifies with being an outsider."
Without specifying an amount, LeBlanc said the ownership group committed "real dollars, significant" to spearhead the campaign. He said Coyotes fans should view it as further proof that the ownership group believes in the market and has no intention of moving elsewhere.
In recent years, the Coyotes have been rumored to be a threat to relocate because of lingering ownership issues, financial hardship, and public squabbles with local government over their lease agreement with Gila River Arena.
Instead, LeBlanc said the current ownership group has invested "millions" of dollars in legal fees to assure their fans that the Coyotes would be staying in the desert, and now more money to rebrand themselves as the unique and cool team in Arizona.
"I think our fans have always been proud, but now they want to wear it on their sleeve," LeBlanc said. "They want people to know, 'I am a Coyotes fan, and if you're not I don't care.' They know we've got a cool thing going on here. I want people to ride our bandwagon, but at the same time if you don't, that's not going to bother me. We know we have a great sport, a great team, great fans, and it's going to grow."
Pierce said the Coyotes began working on the campaign last season by opening dialogue with fans, employees, players, coaches and members of the hockey operations staff to discuss the image they wanted the Coyotes to present publicly.
"They said basically five things," Pierce said.
Pierce listed those things: Be optimistic, have a purpose, protect the hockey culture that already exists in Arizona, stop apologizing, and promote the sport because it's great enough to sell the brand.
"They didn't want us to look backwards anymore," Pierce said. "They were saying, 'Tell us your plan and let us be part of your plan. We're unique, so keep the uniqueness of our hockey culture. When people start to love the game, they'll be invited in to understand our culture. We're an NHL franchise. We're proud. We have a rich history. Be proud of it, own it, and let's go.'"
The Coyotes worked with two outside agencies that specialize in delivering these types of messages, Sterling Brands and One Sixty Over Ninety.
Sterling Brands, based out of San Francisco, recently worked with The Walt Disney Company on ESPN's SportsCenter rebranding campaign. One Sixty Over Ninety counts the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Angels among its clients.
"We want our existing fans to have the tools that they wanted to talk about why they're a fan," Pierce said.
The Coyotes are hoping for immediate and future tangible results.
"We want to grow interest today, so we're driving ticket sales today, but we're also cultivating the next generation of Coyotes fans," Pierce said. "That's really at the heart of it."
The Coyotes have initiated a jersey exchange program that recognizes the fact that many adults in Arizona are transplanted fans of other teams. For every opposing team jersey exchanged by an adult, a child will receive a Coyotes youth jersey for free.
"We're giving parents the opportunity to have their kids grow up rooting for the hometown team just the way they had the opportunity to root for the hometown team," Pierce said. "If we allow kids to grow up rooting for other teams, in 10 years we'll have real problems."
The Coyotes have partnered with the six local rinks in the Phoenix area through their "Part of the Pack" program. They will supply Coyotes jerseys to all the youth house-league teams and all the travel teams will be wearing the same shoulder patch that the Coyotes wear on their road sweaters.
Pierce said they will extend the program to rinks in Flagstaff and Tucson next season.
In addition, the Coyotes have assigned two of their players to be ambassadors for each rink and have committed to a certain number of appearances. They will hold official practices that will be open to the public at each rink throughout the season.
"We wanted to reinvent how we talked about ourselves, what it means to be part of the Coyotes family, not in some kind of aspirational 'this is who we want to be' kind of way, but in who we are," Pierce said. "None of this happens without committed ownership, and ownership committing to be different."