Online Game Is An Ice Breaker

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

It makes sense that the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning knows how to work a game.

Martin Quessenberry, director of Web services, incorporated an online hockey game, Power Puck Shootout, to entice people to visit the team’s redesigned site (www.tampabaylightning.com) in September 2001. It worked so well that within seven days of launching, 1,000 people were leaping onto the virtual ice to play each week. And the site, which had received just 1,500 visitors a day, opened its doors to welcome 9,000 to 12,000 daily as the season got rolling.

But more than delivering visitors, Power Puck has been the catalyst for turning the Web site into the center of Tampa Bay’s branding program and a wellspring for the club’s data collection efforts.

Attendance at games is up 10% from last year — due in no small part to the team’s online presence. “The Web site gets fans excited about the club and has contributed to the overall team awareness,” Quessenberry said.

The Web site address is everywhere — on TV and radio ads, broadcast by stadium announcers during hockey matches, printed on direct mail pieces and promoted between the second and third period of games with in-stadium commercials.

“We’ve blasted the community with the idea that the best way to buy tickets, play games, go to a chat room, talk with players or check scores is to visit www.tampabaylightning.com,” Quessenberry says.

After Power Puck Shootout’s intro, it too was aggressively promoted, with even TV play-by-play announcers talking up how fans could play hockey online.

The 3-D Power Puck game features a goalie with artificial intelligence. The object is to dart around him, outsmart him and score goals. The entire game takes about two and a half minutes.

People get addicted and compete against their friends, says Ted Murphy, CEO and president of MindComet in Maitland, FL, which developed the game for Tampa Bay. “You can play 100 times during your lunch hour.”

To post their score and see how they rate on the leader board, players have to fork over their name and e-mail address.

Then, Quessenberry sends them an e-mail asking if they’d like to receive the team’s e-newsletter, Enews Notifier. The opt-in rate is between 5% and 10%. Since the launch, about 6,500 fans have subscribed and some 20% of those signed on after playing Power Puck.

Even better, after subscribing they fill out a detailed profile, providing telephone number, mailing address, age, their favorite NHL teams, their preferred ticket packages, their favorite radio station — about 15 questions.

“It’s really a data collector disguised as a game,” Murphy remarks.

The Lightning’s fan base is 55% male, ages 18 to 35, middle income and above and computer literate.

In October as the season started, this data, having been integrated with information from other sources, began to be applied to promotions by the ticket department and the suites department at the St. Pete Times Forum where the Lightning play.

Last season, Quessenberry tested ticket sales online and made $62,000 when opening day tickets were only available on the Web site. A sale promoting three Lightning players who were in the Olympics pulled a 27% clickthrough rate. “I was ecstatic,” Quessenberry crows.

This season, he plans to pitch the weekly newsletter to another 20,000 e-mail addresses the hockey club has collected by various means over the years. More e-commerce is in the offing.

The newsletter content is hot, up-to-the minute news. When Tampa Bay signs a player, newsletter readers get an alert. “They don’t have to read it in the newspaper,” Quessenberry points out. “It’s a way to keep the fans in our back pocket, so to speak.”

Besides playing Power Puck, site visitors stick around some 8-1/2 to 12 minutes on various screens, including one with a four-minute video update of the day’s team happenings, such as news of player injuries and what the coaches said during practice, and to talk to other fans and the players on the message board.

“It makes them feel like they are part of the team,” Quessenberry says.

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