SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are ready to embrace what makes them different and begin carving out new traditions in what has long been considered a nontraditional hockey market.
With the launch of this season's #OneTerritory campaign, the Panthers have officially laid claim to the entire Southeast region of the Sunshine State. From West Palm Beach all the way down to Key West, the franchise aims to expand their small town into a booming hockey territory.
"We want to own it," Panthers President & CEO Matthew Caldwell said. "It's about getting out there, owning our area and owning who we are. It's not a traditional market, but that's what's unique about us. A big part of #OneTerritory is owning where we are and who we are. We're still young, we've got a chip on our shoulder, and all of that I think is important."
The original seeds of #OneTerritory were planted just after the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, when Caldwell says the franchise came together and decided to "hit the pause button" following the club's tumultuous campaign. In the first of what would be several off-site meetings to take place throughout the summer, 20 of the organization's top minds came together at the Margaritaville Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida, with the singular goal of crafting a far more concise vision for the future.
"Who we are as a franchise?" Caldwell asked his staff.
Well, in the end, the team had amassed an abundance of notes and a mountain of ideas, but, according to Caldwell, there was one common theme that remained constant throughout the entire creative process: the Florida panther.
"There were a couple of things that kept popping up," Caldwell said. "The main one was paying respect to the heritage of the Florida panther, the animal itself. It's who we are. It's what our team name is. It's our mascot. We did a lot of research on the history of the franchise. The Florida panther is territorial; they span about a 50-mile radius of land. If any other animals enter their territory, they'll protect and defend that ground. That's how we want to be as a franchise."
The Florida panther -- the state's official animal since 1987 - is currently one of the most endangered mammals in the world, with an estimated 180 to 200 living in the wild as of 2017. Like their hockey-playing counterpart, however, the Florida panther has also been making quite the comeback, with their numbers in the wild rising steadily in each of the last three years, according to state wildlife agencies.
It is that theme of rebirth that would inevitably end up defining the team's new mission statement.
"There's been a strong rebirth in the franchise since Vinnie [Viola] has bought the team," Caldwell said. "More attendance, more money spent on the team. It coincides with the animal itself."
With a clean slate and aspirations of a new beginning, the next step in making #OneTerritory come to life was implementing these new ideas throughout the organization, from top to bottom. With star players like Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad leading the team to victory on the ice, it was up to Florida's staff to figure out what the team could do better off of it. For although an exciting on-ice product will always be paramount to any team's success, Caldwell insists that serving the community will be the backbone of the franchise moving forward.
"Teams in general talk about having a good community presence, but for us we wanted to take it to another level," Caldwell said. "If you're emotional and crazy and passionate about your brand, your franchise becomes bigger than winning or losing."
That commitment to the community was certainly put to the test this summer, as Hurricane Irma left thousands of Floridians in need of aid and support. Almost immediately the Panthers leapt into action and began helping pick up the pieces. From gathering and delivering supplies, to serving hot meals to those impacted by the storm, to participating in local cleanups, the team fervently arrived at the forefront of relief efforts.
"I think the hurricane itself really showed the power of community and the power of people willing to help their neighbors out," Panthers Chief of Staff Sean McCaffrey said. "It showed the power of our organization and our partners and just how much of an impact and a difference we can make in people's lives. I think we've identified a lot of people that want to help out all the time. We made and impact then and now we'll make an impact going forward."
With the "Serve the Territory" initiative, the Panthers plan to continue that work in hopes of eventually becoming a beacon for community outreach in and around South Florida. Under #OneTerritory, the team will be making it easy for fans to volunteer alongside the team's players and staff with an online signup page and calendar of events.
"We think our team can be the rallying point in the community," McCaffrey said. "We have fans in all three counties - Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach - and we believe that our organization and the BB&T Center can be the center of it all. We want to join those three counties - and anyone else who wants to be a part of what we're doing -- together as one."
In addition to their work on the ice and in the community, the Panthers envision the other major pillars of #OneTerritory to be youth hockey, school involvement, fan interaction and the continued implementation of the "Community Champions" and "Heroes Among Us" programs during games.
Now that #OneTerritory has been defined, Caldwell says, it's time to defend it.
No matter where you live in South Florida, the Panthers want to be your hockey team, believing that the connection between fan and franchise can unite borders and extend beyond any city limits.
"The whole goal is to get real granular and deep with each city and county that's here," Caldwell said. "We want to have Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach and Miami all feel very connected to us. We want to make it one territory that we can all get behind. If we give people something to get inspired behind and get really excited to be a part of, we can unite this territory."