A Closer Look Into One of the NHL’s Best Marketing Strategies

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.

penguins 3.jpg

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.

penguins

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.

 

 

  1. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pittsburgh-penguins-score-on-marketing-power-play-with-vibes-media-103434534.html
  2. https://www.nhl.com/penguins/news/pens-launch-new-marketing-campaign/c-537777
  3. https://www.nhl.com/penguins/news/matt-murray-charity-program/c-300581156

China’s Import Ban Greatly Impacts America’s Recycling Market

Recycling has been a growing phenomenon ever since environmentalists persuaded the government to implement more sustainable means when dealing with household waste. Growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia, my elementary school teachers frequently instructed us on the proper ways to recycle, whether that was looking at the bottom of various recyclables like milk or egg cartons to see whether they had the proper number in the “recycle logo” that indicated if we should or not should place them in the blue recycling bins.

Back then, there was more of a stress on the “three-bin system” that separated trash, recyclables, and compost. We learned of the three R’s and sang in unison the catchy phrase, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Although many people and businesses are becoming more environmentally friendly, it seems senseless to ask where exactly all of our recyclables end up.

Surprisingly, for years, merchants in China have been buying American recyclables to sift through the heaping pounds of trash to collect scrap paper and cardboard for packaging purposes. Thus, all of the trash Americans put in their blue bins on their curbs are being compressed into 1-ton bales and sold to other countries overseas.

Going against this “three-bin system”, America has recently been trying to place as much recyclables into one bin and then shipping the waste to China. The responsibility then falls onto China to sort out the waste. This service cultivated “third world-like sorting operations,” and thousands of poor, rural migrants were employed to filter through the enormous piles of waste to recover the usable materials and throw away the rest.

Meg 2- 07.12.18

Once the packing boxes are repurposed, they are then shipped back to the United States filled with Chinese-manufactured goods. China benefited greatly from business with America over the years because it is much cheaper to make cardboard or plastic using recycled material rather than making it from scratch.

To what extent does China impose on the importation of America’s recyclables? While the U.S. exports 30% of all recycled material, half of that 30% goes to China. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., China imported 17 million tons for about $5.5 billion, in 2016. Although many regions of the U.S. export varying amounts to China, western states make up a large portion of China’s market in the exportation of recycled waste.

This repetitive cycle and synergistic relationship between China and the U.S. has been going on for years. Thus, it came as a shock to the U.S. in July of 2017 when Beijing notified the WTO of their plan to stop importing of “foreign garbage.” The ban would commence at the beginning of 2018.

The main reason for this regulation was that “large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes [were being] mixed in [with] the solid waste that [could] be used as raw materials.” Ultimately, China has been trying to reduce their pollution rates by  implementing programs that will clean up their environment. The importing of America’s waste was causing a negative impact on China’s air with the large amounts of hazardous waste incorporated with the recyclable material.

Before the ban, most of the waste China imported was being thrown away in landfills. Thus, many of the recyclables that America believed were being reused were ultimately thrown away by China. Although many people have been recycling for years now, there is still a misconception as to what trash can be recycled and what cannot. Some materials that are found in recycling bins but should not be placed in them include: plastic grocery bags, grease-stained pizza boxes, and wax-coated frozen-food packages.

Speculations emerged saying China implemented this ban because Beijing “hopes to tap into its own growing consumer base as the foundation of its recycled materials industry.” A way for China to not experience the same environmental hazards when sifting through America’s waste is by implementing a rigorous program of inspecting piles of waste and sifting out the contaminated trash, food waste, or even materials with moisture in reject bales.

America has been highly dependent on China’s business in buying their “unwanted” materials. However, most Americans today have been unaware of these large exchanges with China throughout the years.

Consequentially, China’s import ban on America’s waste has caused the U.S. to frantically find a new market to purchase the recyclables. In the meantime, however, a large portion of the waste are being thrown away into landfills. This operation is the exact opposite of what recycling is supposed to do for the environment. It is astounding to know that in all of these years of recycling that China, not America, was the country reusing material for manufacturing. I assumed, while growing up, that America used their own facilities to operate on repurposing waste in hopes of being a more sustainable society. Sadly, I was wrong.

It is not uncommon for many organizations to have their products manufactured in China and then shipped back to America. One notable company is Hallmark, a manufacturer of greeting cards, based in Kansas City. Due to an increase in competition from the Internet, Hallmark has been “outsourcing its workforce overseas for the past decade.”

For any special occasions, Hallmark offers greeting cards that are made from 100% recycled material. These cards are much cheaper compared to other Hallmark cards. If one were to look at the back of these eco-friendly cards, one would most likely see the phrase: “Made in China.” It would not surprise me that Hallmark has been manufacturing many of their products abroad because of China’s large operations with repurposing cardboard and plastics. It will be interesting to see if China’s ban on the importation of America’s recyclables will have any impact on Hallmark.

America, a modernized country that is highly innovative in technology, has a societal duty to protect the environment. Therefore, the United States will have to put in more energy and attention to this issue of recycling in finding safer and cleaner ways of reusing material other than relying on countries overseas. Because the U.S. government has been in charge of this trade with China, I speculate that the government will try to find the easiest and cheapest way in disposing of our recyclables. I am certain that most Americans are unaware of these operations with China. Thus, I hope more people will learn about what really happens to their waste and support the need for the U.S. to actually recycle instead of throwing away the recyclables in landfills or exporting the remains to other countries.

 

Sources:

https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2018-03-27/china-doesnt-want-your-trash

https://www.pitch.com/news/article/20601279/hallmark-cares-enough-to-send-the-very-best-jobs-to-china

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/recycling-you-may-be-doing-it-wrong-180951192/

 

Pittsburgh’s Relationship to Real Estate Development is Complicated

It is no surprise that Pittsburgh is on the upswing in various levels of prosperity: increases in tech jobs, a high quality of life, and some of the best systems (medical, education, etc.) in the country that are seemingly accessible to everyone.  A good indication of economic prosperity is overall real estate or property development in the region, defined as a business process encompassing many different activities involving land, buildings, and capital.   More specific activities include renovations and re-leasing to land acquisition and ground-up building of commercial, residential, and manufacturing facilities.  While this is not the only or even the best determinant of economic growth in a city like Pittsburgh, digging a little bit deeper into how cities handle property development can lead to broader conclusions about the future wellbeing of a city, particularly a city in transformation like Pittsburgh.

We all know the story: Steel city goes techno, built on a strong support system of universities, charitable foundations, and innovative companies like the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) that changed the fabric of how the city operated.  However, the development occurring today in Pittsburgh is distinctively different from that which got the city here.  The skyscraper boom that started with the U.S. Steel Tower in 1970 and lasted through the 1980’s and 1990’s is no more, with the only major skyscraper built in the last five years being the Tower at PNC Plaza (touted as the “greenest office building in the world”, achieving platinum LEED certification[1])  Universities have slowed their building and renovations recently, with the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) having not built a major academic building in over ten years and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) finally securing the funding necessary to build an undergraduate business school building (the Tepper Quad, to be completed in the fall of 2018) in addition to a mini boom in new acquisitions and potential developments[2].  Meanwhile, private developments in the city have skyrocketed, with various firms include Walnut Capital, the Davis Companies, Core Reality, and Millcraft Investments, completing or planning to complete hundreds of millions of dollars in a variety of development projects,  These include the various “Bakery Square” construction projects, the $100 million redevelopment of the Union Trust Building, and the mixed-use redevelopment of the old Kauffman’s/Macy’s department store in downtown into apartments, retail, hotel, and office suites (Walnut, Davis, and Core respectively).

To further complicate the story is the potential for Amazon or another large company placing a second headquarters or major facility in the city.  This creates a few issues: first we have the well-known problem of gentrification (which I’ve touched on before as an ongoing problem in Pittsburgh).  New developments of any type have the potential to displace citizens who can not afford to live in new apartments, shop at pricey new stores, or work jobs for which they do not have the qualifications.  We also have real estate speculation going on, which may or may not pay off for companies and individuals thinking Amazon will locate here.  Just a few weeks ago, an investor purchased 18 homes in the Hazelwood neighborhood (next to one of the potential locations for Amazon to develop, the 178-acre Hazelwood Green site) and spent over $1 million total on the properties, inflating their value by hundreds of thousands of dollars[3].  Finally, we have the actual proposal to attract Amazon itself, which has still not been released by the PGHQ2 team despite PA’s Office of Open Records order for the team to release the proposal to the public.  The proposal could have hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies provided to Amazon, and that amount of money offered to one organization could set a dangerous precedent for companies and developers in the region looking to squeeze as much money out of their projects as possible[4].

So what is the picture we have?  We have a city with older companies and institutions who are not developing like they used to (with the possible exceptions of PNC, UPMC and CMU) and an influx of new developers catering to the potential arrival of companies and individuals with different needs and requirements.  This type of transition could upend an industry, especially if wild speculation takes hold or potential investments and people migration do not materialize.

There are examples of this type of problem, new waves of development from new developers that tank a local economy, in other cities that we can look at.  Phoenix, Arizona is a good example of a city close to Pittsburgh’s size whose overdevelopment without proper oversight and planning caused 20 properties to be under development at the same time, with no impetus for population growth to absorb that demand for residential and commercial complexes[5].  An extreme example that comes to mind is Seattle’s massive growth at the hands of Amazon’s development, causing jumps in the rental prices of apartments by 65% in the past five years, in addition to a host of other problems ranging from horrible traffic congestion to increases in the homeless population[6].

Even Pittsburgh can see the problems that improperly managed or rapidly changing development characteristics affect the city.  A good example is the recent hotel boom: between 2010 and 2016, there were over 10 hotels built in the city of Pittsburgh, prompted by the success of the Fairmont Pittsburgh which opened in 2010.  In 2017, there were 15 additional hotels under development or completed by year end[7], representing an additional 2,000 rooms potentially being added to the supply of Pittsburgh[8].  This creates incredible pains which hoteliers in Pittsburgh are all too familiar with, including drops in average daily rate and occupancy as hotels fight over the same base of travelers, pains that could have been mitigated with better city planning and oversight.

Another localized example in Pittsburgh is the redevelopment going on in East Liberty, which has already caused headaches for local residents.  It’s hard to place a beginning on East Liberty’s “re-emergence” but the profile of the neighborhood was raised significantly with Google taking up residence in Bakery Square in 2006[9].  Since then, a mix of apartments, restaurants, retailers, hotels, and office buildings have driven rents up for current residents and incited a costly legal battle between one developer and the City of Pittsburgh which cost $10 million by the end of case[10].  I provided positives and negatives for East Liberty’s redevelopment in my aforementioned gentrification article, but the ultimate conclusion I came to then and now is that development without proper planning and oversight means everyone loses in the end.

So what does the future hold for the state of Pittsburgh’s future development, and how should community leaders react?  It’s first and foremost about engaging in meaningful dialogue with city leaders about the purpose and aim of development and where the money is flowing.  Pittsburgh is already doing this, as the community forum on Amazon’s potential arrival last week sparked a more lively and broad debate about community development’s purpose in transforming a city[11].  More discussions like these need to happen, and community leaders shouldn’t just be focused on the big investments.  Smaller development projects add up, as we’ve seen in Phoenix and Seattle, and they have the potential to change the fabric of a community, sometimes for the worse.  Pittsburgh is a wonderful, growing metropolis, and as Pittsburghers, we should safeguard its development so that it continues to grow and remain wonderful.

 

[1] https://www.nextpittsburgh.com/city-design/the-tower-at-pnc-plaza-opens-as-the-greenest-office-building-in-the-world/

[2] https://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/print-edition/2015/10/30/cmu-s-building-boom.html

[3] http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2018/01/26/Developer-buys-18-Hazelwood-properties-near-potential-Amazon-site/stories/201801250199

[4] http://triblive.com/local/allegheny/13220106-74/pittsburghs-amazon-hq2-proposal-should-be-made-public-state-rules

[5] http://www.multifamilyexecutive.com/design-development/the-overdevelopment-watch-three-cities-that-could-see-an-apartment-glut_o

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/zillow/2018/01/19/what-amazons-growth-has-meant-for-seattle/

[7] https://www.visitpittsburgh.com/media/news-releases/hotel-updates-2017-2019/

[8] https://www.hotelmanagement.net/development/pittsburgh-s-supply-boom-not-a-long-term-concern-for-hotels

[9] http://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2014/12/07/Google-effect-How-has-tech-giant-changed-Pittsburgh-s-commerce-and-culture/stories/201412040291

[10] https://technical.ly/2017/06/02/lawsuit-pittsburgh-development-cautionary-tale/

[11] https://www.geekwire.com/2018/community-forum-amazon-hq2-pittsburgh-looks-avoid-becoming-next-seattle/