Calder Cup Returns to Cleveland as Lake Erie Monsters Win. Team Has Won On and Off the Ice

The Lake Erie Monsters are a minor-league professional hockey team. They are the top developmental team for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. The Monsters job is to develop the players in the minor leagues before they get to the next level.

By being a professional team, the Monsters are also a business. Hockey is a sport enjoyed by many and it is also business. For the business to succeed, the Monsters have to find different methods to build their brand, sell tickets and merchandise, and win on the ice as well.

For the first few years of existence, the Monsters management focused heavily on building the team’s brand name and the in-game experience. To succeed in business, you have to have a brand and an experience to go with it. Apple has a top brand with the iPod, iTunes, and iPad lines. Starbucks built their brand with a line of coffees in the Seattle market and created in-store experiences with friendly baristas and calming atmospheres. Building the brand was going to be key to the Monsters success at the gate and in the merchandise store.

Starting practically from scratch, the Monsters had to pick a name, design a logo, and market the team to build a brand name. Rather than recycling an old name like Lumberjacks, Barons, or Crusaders (which was considered at one point), the team opted to build its brand by naming the team the Lake Erie Monsters. The team spent lots of money marketing and advertising the team through local outlets and slowly built awareness and recognition.

To succeed at the minor-league level, the game can’t always be what sells the tickets or gets fans to come back. It is the experience and ambiance inside the arena. If the team doesn’t win on the ice or field, fans who paid tickets will still need an experience to get them asking for more.

The Monsters created that atmosphere with loud music, energetic in-game hosts, entertaining skits during the game, and an overall good time. Even if the Monsters didn’t always win, it was hard not to feel like you had a good time when walking back to the car afterwards.

In the first eight years of existence, the Monsters management won with the fans with ticket sales and merchandise. The Monsters are one of the top drawing teams in the league and usually rank high in merchandise sales.

Like any business, you play to win. For the Monsters organization to keep winning with fans, they had to bring something the city had not seen since the 1964 Cleveland Barons; a Calder Cup.

Part of that strategy came from changing affiliations from the Colorado Avalanche to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With the parent club two hours down Route 71, it made sense business wise to help build the brand name by aligning with an NHL club that was closer. Research had shown fans in Cleveland do travel to Columbus for Blue Jackets games and the partnership could help both clubs.

The move was not initially embraced by all. Some of the fans had a deep loyalty to the Avalanche and other NHL organizations. The Blue Jackets did have some financial issues and the team doesn’t always draw well when Ohio State Football is in season. Having lived down in Columbus for four years during my undergraduate years at Otterbein, it was apparent the Blue Jackets had a fan base that was dwindling with mediocre to poor teams. Coverage for the team was nowhere near at the level of Ohio State and rumors circulated that the team was going to move.

With the new affiliation in place, the Monsters started winning more and they qualified for the Calder Cup playoffs for the second time in team history. Fans were happy to see the team make it to the postseason but in business and in sport, you play to win.

The Monsters continued to win on the ice throughout the playoffs. By eliminating every opponent they had faced in the first three rounds, the Monsters reached the Calder Cup Finals. The team was still winning at the gate as fans poured in for the playoff games. It was now time to win on the ice.

With a 3-0 lead in the series, the Monsters had a victory at the gate as over 19,663 fans poured into Quicken Loans Arena to see if the Calder Cup would call Cleveland home again. The Lumberjacks had come close to that attendance several times during their existence, however, it was the Monsters that would shatter the record. It was the largest crowd to ever witness a professional hockey game in Cleveland.

As Oliver Bjorkstand’s shot with 1.9 seconds left in overtime trickled into the back of the net, the Monsters officially won the Calder Cup as a team and an organization. As the team celebrated, the fans cheered loudly as a championship returned to Cleveland.

Success in business is usually shared by owners, business partners, equity partners, and shareholders. In this case, the Calder Cup was won not only by the players and management; it was also won by the fans who started packing Quicken Loans to cheer on the Monsters nine seasons ago. The management built the brand and brought everything the fans wanted with the team; it was now time for both sides to celebrate victory.

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~ by jeffrsabo on June 12, 2016.

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