While the outcome of the Stanley Cup final remains in the hands of the hockey gods, the Vancouver Canucks have already won it all off the ice.
Over the past few years, as the team itself has excelled, the Canucks organization has turned into a marketing juggernaut, the envy of virtually every other franchise in the National Hockey League.
Corporate sponsors are piling on, merchandising sales are going through the roof, and the Canucks have not had an unsold ticket to a game at Rogers Arena since November of 2002, the longest such streak in the NHL.
"I can't think of another franchise that has done better, especially over the last five years," said Tom Mayenknecht, host of a sports-marketing show on Team 1040 radio. "I would put them on a par with the Montreal Canadiens."
With their marketing strength and current run to within four games of returning the Stanley Cup to Canada, Mr. Mayenknecht said the Canucks could be on the way to becoming the country's third "national team," along with the Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
"There's been a perfect storm of change over the past few years. A real tradition of excellence has been established."
Along those lines, few have failed to notice the growing number of blue Canucks jerseys in the stands, when the team visits NHL rinks outside Vancouver. That was unheard of not so long ago.
"It's cool to be a Canucks fan these days," said Victor de Bonis, the team's chief operating officer, ahead of Wednesday night's opening Cup match against the Boston Bruins.
Mr. de Bonis joined the team in March of 1994, just before its heartbreaking, seven-game loss to the New York Rangers in that year's Stanley Cup final.
He remembers the many dark years that followed, when the players floundered, their supporters grew increasingly frustrated and the Canucks bled red ink.
"Those were challenging times," Mr. de Bonis acknowledged. "Some years, it wasn't even certain the team would remain in Vancouver. We had significant losses."
As the team's fortunes improved, however, the Canucks began to market its product more aggressively.
There was more outreach to the community, with the successful, all-embracing slogan, "We Are All Canucks."
The team uniform went back to its original blue and green colours, but with a sleek, classic look that retained the killer whale orca as its chief logo.
Merchandise sales have boomed. The Canucks rank second or third in the league, said Mr. de Bonis, despite not being an Original Six club. "During the playoffs, our sales have been even better. We're having trouble getting enough inventory."
The team is also huge on social media, indicative of the organization's targeting of younger fans.
Last month, the Canucks website recorded more than two million hits. Facebook followers have doubled since the playoffs began to more than 400,000. Another 100,000 fans follow on Twitter.
"They get more social media traffic than any other NHL team," said Mr. Mayenknecht. "They've really been aggressive about it."
He said a recent business analysis ranked the Canucks number one in the league, when the combination of on-ice and business operations was considered. "They really are at the top of the heap. They are a remarkable story."
Key to the team's marketing success, he said, is superb brand management.
"They made a bold decision to stay with their slogan, 'We Are All Canucks.' A lot of teams change their taglines like they do underwear," Mr. Mayenknecht said. "But the Canucks stuck with what they had, and it's resonating even more, as their support increases during the playoffs."
While the team is privately owned by the local Aquilini Investment Group and does not report earnings, Mr. Mayenknecht estimated that the run to the Stanley Cup will mean millions in extra revenue and significantly boost the team's overall value.
"They could gross between $30-million and $45-million this year. They are making serious money," he said.
He estimated the team could now be worth $300-million, which would put it among the top five valuable clubs in the league. "Before the season started, I would have put them about eighth or ninth."
Lindsay Meredith, professor of marketing at Simon Fraser University, agreed the Canucks have done a good job promoting their product.
On the other hand, he added: "The best marketing in the world is called a winning team. Marketing a team that loses all the time is like trying to put lipstick on a pig."
Four reasons to love a Canucks game
The fan experience at Rogers Arena, albeit an expensive one, is one of the best in North America. Fans know what to expect, the presentation is smoothly and effectively orchestrated, and it's fun. Here are four of the main elements that make almost any night at the game, win or lose, one to savour and remember.
John Ashbridge, the well-known former CKNW newscaster, has been the Canucks' voice at the rink since 1987, announcing goals for and against, penalties and everything else in his distinctive, familiar, stentorian tones. But there are no voice histrionics from Mr. Ashbridge, as often happens with hysterical hometown announcers in the United States. "I'm part of the off-ice officials," he says. That still hasn't stopped the Canucks from adding a pre-recorded jubilant "woo-hoo" as a tag to each sober Ashbridge announcement of a Vancouver goal.
No important home game for the Canucks is without Mark Donnelly, the team's rotund and cherished singer of O Canada. It never fails to stir the soul when the long-haired member of the Vancouver Opera Chorus belts out the anthem with his powerful operatic voice, particularly during those few moments that have become Mr. Donnelly's signature. For one chorus, he stops singing and holds the mike aloft, allowing the fans to bellow the words on their own. It works every time.
Team mascots aren't always successful. But Fin, the energetic, free-wheeling, orca-costumed mascot of the Canucks, is a hit wherever he goes. Kids love him, and his antics rarely fail to get a rise from the crowd, even when enthusiasm may have waned as, for example, when the Canucks go through a rough patch on the ice. Pounding his ubiquitous drum, visiting every nook and cranny of the arena and dancing like a maniac during raucous, rock 'n' roll interludes, Fin is as much a part of a Canucks game as the team's hometown jerseys.
Don Cherry hates them, commentator Glenn Healy is no fan, and the NHL recently tried to rein them in. But the hilarious, taunting, slithery duo known as the Green Men, perched beside the visiting team's penalty box, have become a fixture at Rogers Arena. When they missed a game recently, a female fan tried to replace their distracting antics by flashing her breasts at the opposing player in the sin bin. And pale, pink imitations of the duo have surfaced in other rinks. But the Green Men, now with their own Facebook site and Twitter account, remain one-of-a-Vancouver kind.
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