Far from the frozen north, the struggling Phoenix Coyotes turned to Minnesota ad agency Fallon. It's Fallon's first sports client.
"Hockey the hard way" is a fitting slogan for a National Hockey League team that calls the desert its home.
And that's the marketing pitch created by Minneapolis ad agency Fallon for the Phoenix Coyotes, a team struggling to build its fan base in a tough economy.
For Fallon, this is the agency's first jump into the world of sports marketing, and the agency meticulously researched the NHL franchise before rolling out its work earlier this fall.
"This team will not go away," says the narrator of a 30-second TV commercial, partly in reference to the Coyotes' back-to-back playoff seasons and partly to its muddled ownership situation. "No one told them this is not a hockey town."
John King, Fallon's chief communication officer, said the agency's sports marketing team interviewed the Coyotes' organization from top to bottom, from the trainers to players to the front office.
"This is a hard-hat, lunch-pail hockey team, and fans can relate to that spirit," King said. "You have to be more prickly in the desert, you have to do all things to win."
Fallon calls its sports division "The Room," in deference to hockey slang for the locker room. The Coyotes are their launch client, but they've also done work for the 26-city Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, an event that mixes live music with a traditional marathon and half marathon.
Sports marketing can be a dicey proposition, especially in lean times.
"There are things you can't control," said Charlie Callahan, creative director at the Minneapolis ad shop Periscope, which has been the agency of record for the Minnesota Twins since 2005. "Players get traded, players get injuries, someone has a tough year. You have to be cognizant of all of that."
Callahan said the marketing message has to be smart no matter what a team's record might be.
"You can't be overpromising in the marketing," he said. "You want to create a good feeling for the team. You want to bring players to the level where the average fan feels that they could sit down and have a chat with that player."
The Coyotes, who are for sale and technically owned by the NHL after previous ownership ran into financial problems, are pleased with the Fallon work.
"They didn't create this in a vacuum," said the Coyotes' chief operating officer, Mike Nealy. "They came down here and got the feel of the locker room."
Phoenix is not a hockey-shy market, Nealy said, but it is a market with a lot to offer to full-time residents as well as snowbirds.
"There are hockey people here, you just have to get their attention because they've got golf, warm temperatures and other outdoor activities," Nealy said. Ticket sales are up, but it's still tough to get season-ticket commitments when the team might be sold and moved in the next year or two, he said.
"We're handicapped that way, but I think we are on the right path," Nealy said. The Coyotes are 6-4-2 for the season, about in the middle of the Western Conference standings.
King credits the "Hockey the hard way" slogan to Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett, whose philosophy embraces a "pack mentality" where each player has a role on the ice.
"This is a defiant-against-all-odds team with a scrappy identity. [The message is] if hockey doesn't work in the desert, then they forgot to tell the Coyotes," King said.
Fallon's marketing campaign also includes several print advertisements that play to hockey's physical side.
In one of those, two players are down on the ice with a caption that reads, "Collisions this hard usually involve airbags."
Another shot of two players fighting says, "Law, meet order."
And a third, in an homage to the desert, shows two players scrapping for the puck with the headline, "Not all battle lines are drawn in sand."
David Phelps • 612-673-7269