If you live in or around Pittsburgh, it’s likely you’ve heard of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but have you ever thought about the marketing strategy behind the Penguins organization? Does a sports team in Pittsburgh even really need a marketing strategy? Well, they do. To keep growing its fan base, the Penguins have had to continually evolve their marketing campaigns.
In 2007, the Penguins began targeting their fans through mobile technology when they worked in collaboration with Vibe Marketing Group. Both parties worked to create the Pens Mobile Club(1), which has, since 2010, expanded into the Pens App. The creation and promotion of the Pens Mobile Club increased the membership of their club from approximately 14,000 members to 74,000 members(1). The Pens App has many features, including updates throughout the game and Game Day Previews. Videos and articles fill the home page of the app covering topics from “Verizon Coach’s Corner” to “Pet Calendar Shoot.” Through the app, fans can also sign up for the Pens Pass Last Minute Ticket Club. Once signed up, fans receive a text message when last minute tickets, including playoff games, are available in the FedEx Level or the Giant Eagle/Snapple Level. App users also have access to podcasts, Fan Central, and players’ stats throughout the season. The app is free and available to download for iPhone and Android users by searching “Pittsburgh Penguins” in the app store.
Fast forward to 2010, the Penguins organization teamed up with Gatesman, Marmion, Drake, and Dave, Inc. to restructure its marketing campaigns(2). Coming out of the 2009-10 season, the Penguins finished fourth place in the Eastern Conference. This was an upsetting outcome based on the Penguins winning the 2008-09 Stanley Cup. To continue to incorporate the fans and continue to build upon their foundation, the Penguins presented their newest slogan “Destiny Has A New Home”(2). An additional tie-in to this slogan, the Penguins were finding a new home in the Consol Energy Center (now PPG Paints Arena) at the beginning of the 2010 season. This move into a more modern arena from Mellon Arena (also known as the Igloo) aided the Penguins in being able to be more technological when it came to marketing strategies and fan engagement. The marketing slogan helped to bring focus to this change, but also show the fans the continued commitment to excellence they came to expect of the Penguins.
The Penguins marketing team seems to identify early on what moves will be needed to keep up with current marketing strategies. Since 2010, and especially in the last three years, there has been an increase in the Penguins social media content becoming more geared towards fan interactions. No longer are its posts strictly related to the score of the game or other game-related information. The organization tends to focus on off-ice accomplishments and interactions more so in their social media – which helps grow that connection between fans and the organization. A prime example where the organization builds on previous posts made – last season the Penguins posted about the players’ love of Mario Kart. This season, the Penguins posted a video of Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist playing a live-action game of Mario Kart. Matt Murray also announced yesterday that he will be making a $30 donation for every save he makes during the season as part of his “Saves MATTer” charity program(3). If this program would have been implemented last season, he would have donated over $38,000 to youth organizations(3). If you talk to fans, they feel like part of the Penguin’s family. Players are called by their first names and nicknames in casual conversation (i.e. Sid the Kid, Geno) and if you didn’t know better, you would think these fans were neighbors with the players. The Penguins really do a fantastic job of creating that connection between fans and players and having it be a positive experience for all involved.
Even with the major overhaul in 2010, the Penguins continue to improve their interactions with their fans going into the 2018-19 season. This season, the Penguins are doing away with PensPoints and looking to launch a new program in November, the Pens Instant Win Program. Very little is known about this program because the organization is not relaying any information to the public at the moment.
The Penguins are also active on multiple social media platforms, including Pinterest and Facebook. Although their Pinterest account hasn’t been updated for the 2018-19 season, fans can still follow many boards that include#PensValentines, Wedding on Ice, and Holiday HapPENings. The Penguins also have a fan interaction board for pets.
While creating content on multiple platforms, the Penguins seem to post the most content on their Twitter profile. The Penguins use this platform to interact with fans, as well as give game updates, practice updates, etc., which are typically in real time, as well as posting off-ice content. For example, I tweeted the Penguins and in less than 30 minutes, they had responded. You can also find many of the Penguins staff tweeting about behind the scenes information, like a sneak peek at Matt Murray’s mask before the preseason started (which garnered 619 Retweets and 4,070 likes) and their take on current happenings in the hockey community. Two of the best examples for incorporating off-ice accomplishments into the Penguins marketing are posts about an article on Jake Guentzel’s rise to fame and Bryan Domoulin’s “hat trick of summers.” Plus, to no one’s surprise, a big “Happy Birthday” to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together received 6,412 Retweets and 21,246 Likes. Their most recent high impact tweet was their reaction to the new Philadelphia Flyers mascot, Gritty, with over 15,000 Likes. The Penguins Snapchat and Instagram stories are great for behind the scenes look at warm-ups, practices, and time with the players – on and off the ice.
The Pittsburgh Penguins marketing strategy is much like its team; it has evolved through the years. It has found new ways to bring fans into the sport, just as it has brought new team members to the club. Yet it has maintained its loyal following, just as it has managed to maintain some of its key players, such as Mario Lemieux. It is easy to see how the Penguins tap into modern culture, while still looking back on great athletes that have passed through the organization, to include multiple generations of fans in the organization.
To date, the Penguins have a strong social media following and a solid fan base to lean on. However, to continue to bring new fans to the organization, the Penguins will have to maintain its current level of fan interaction through social media, as well as stay one step ahead of the current trends. When attempting to build the fan base, the mindset of listening to fans important, but the follow through with related actions is what will keep the Penguins at the forefront of many hockey fans’ minds. The KeyBank Challenge videos posted throughout the season seem to be a major selling point to fans who want to feel like they are getting to know the players more personally. This personal connection will not only help maintain the current fan base, but will continue to bring in more fans as the Penguins progress through the 2018-19 season.