The start of the NHL regular season is just a few short days away and the Anaheim Ducks will soon take part in the franchise’s 22nd season. The sport that Wayne Gretzky helped introduce to millions of Southern Californians through our neighboring team, the Los Angeles Kings, just before the Ducks franchise entered the league, is now seeing exponential growth in interest and participation. And it’s certainly no accident.
The sports world is obsessed with the here and now, the most recent and the right in front. As an industry, we devote a great deal of energy to worrying about the ratings from last week and comparative analytics of our latest promotion. Our long-term timeline in this business is often limited to a season at a time and the trends of the moment—this is product of today’s environment. The world has gone from twice-a-day Facebook posts to three-times-an-hour Twitter updates. Staying current and relevant has never been so minute-to-minute.
However, at the core of what we aspire to is a deeper relationship with our customers, one hopefully not solely based on a winning season, a singular personality or a catchy seasonal marketing slogan, but rather a tenured affinity for what our sport, our teams have represented over time.
The Anaheim Ducks have been fortunate to see a great deal of success on and off the ice over the past half dozen years. A conference final appearance was followed by a Stanley Cup championship in 2007 and division titles the past two seasons. During that time we set franchise marks with a 78-game home sellout streak and set club records for merchandise sales among many other business-related highlights. But putting those short-term successes and the areas where we need improvement aside, it’s the long-term vision and philosophy our owners, Henry and Susan Samueli, that could benefit not just the sport of hockey, but professional sports as a whole.
Stemming from a true belief in the game we’re promoting, buoyed by the support of our ownership, the Ducks organization has committed to taking decisive and aggressive action to bring hockey to the masses. We’re confident that our heavy investment into innovative educational and participatory programs will reap long-term rewards for not only the organization, but also the individuals involved and the game of hockey as a whole.
Unlike baseball, basketball and football (the other major sports in our region), hockey’s biggest barrier to growth in Southern California remains access and understanding, which is why our franchise in particular has taken great measures to expand the reach and availability of the game throughout Orange County. Over the past nine years, the club has purchased, and now operates, seven ice and inline hockey rinks in the area, and has helped grow participation by more than 30 percent over the past three years alone. The Anaheim Ducks High School League, which began just six years ago with a single team, has grown to now include five divisions and 41 teams. We’ve implemented a school program that uses hockey to teach educational themes to elementary-aged children. The program, which includes a physical education component as well, is now prevalent in over 300 schools in five Southern California counties, reaching over 28,000 students each year and a total of over 250,000 students since its inception in 2005.
These efforts don’t pay immediate dividends. There’s no way to track precisely how many tickets the programs have sold in real-time, and they certainly aren’t meant for near-term monetary gains that look great on a spreadsheet. But for a new generation in Southern California, I’m proud to be part of an organization that’s not simply thinking only of today’s bottom line or just trying to deliver a slightly more compelling ticket offer, but rather one that’s giving our youth new life experiences and the opportunity to be part of a game they’ll could come to know and love for the rest of their lives.
Tim Ryan is President/CEO, Honda Center and EVP/COO, Anaheim Ducks. Bio.