Fan support helps Nordiques succeed

The quebec Nordiques have the best fans in the National Hockey League, and maybe the world, says a top official with the pro hockey team.Jean D. Legault, vice-president of corporate development and communications with the Nordiques, says fan attendance 'is tremendous,...

The quebec Nordiques have the best fans in the National Hockey League, and maybe the world, says a top official with the pro hockey team.

Jean D. Legault, vice-president of corporate development and communications with the Nordiques, says fan attendance ‘is tremendous, considering the size of our [small] market and the recession.’

Indeed, the francophone community has responded to the team, despite its dismal record – finishing last the past four seasons, and near the bottom of the 21-team league throughout most of its 13-year history.

The club, based in primarily French-speaking Quebec City, (pop. about 600,000) had 90% attendance five years ago.

Today, there is 99% capacity at home games in the club’s 15,400-seat Colisee arena.

70% male

A socio-demographic profile of Nordiques fans conducted in 1989 shows that 70% of those who come to the games are male.

The average fan is said by the team to be 31 years old, earns $31,700 and lives mostly in the greater Quebec City area (although 27% do come from the south shore area.)

About 40% have secondary school education, 34% have attended college, and 25% university. Almost two-thirds are married and have an average of two children.

Fifty-eight per cent are white-collar workers, with 16% blue collar and 26% fitting into other categories.

The Nordiques’ success in attracting these fans can be attributed to shrewd marketing and the well-publicized and controversial Eric Lindros trade.

Lindros, a big, tough and talented centre from Toronto was picked first by Quebec in the 1991 June draft.

But the 18-year-old decided not to join the Nordiques and instead rejoined his junior club, the Oshawa Generals.

Nordiques management finally traded the player this summer to the Philadelphia Flyers for $15 million and five players – goalie Ron Hextell, forward Mike Ricci and defencemen Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Swedish rookie sensation Peter Forsberg, and draft choices.

This infusion of cash and new talent has propelled the Nordiques from last place to a contending position.

As of Nov. 17, Quebec was second in its division and fifth overall with 24 points. The club had seven points at the same time last season.

Hard road

But Legault says the road to success has not been easy. It has meant marketing the Nordiques in bold and innovative ways.

‘We’ve tried, contrary to some of our politicians, to separate the province, not the country [in order to reach our fans,]‘ Legault says.

He says the Nordiques more or less have the eastern portion of Quebec, and their rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, have western Quebec.

‘This is a two-team province, and the other team [Montreal] has been there over 60 years,’ Legault says.

‘So you have to take into consideration what they’ve done, who they have targetted, what kind of mistakes they’ve made, and then see where your niche is,’ he says.

The Nordiques joined the nhl in 1979 and played in a 10,000-seat arena.

Two years later, they moved into the larger Colisee building.

‘That’s when we decided to target a `regional’ crowd, going after communities such as Chicoutimi, Trois-Rivieres, Drummondville and Rimouski,’ Legault says.

‘If we hadn’t done this, I don’t think the [Nordiques] franchise would still be here,’ he says.

The club’s management also evaluated the Quebec City market.

Legault says it is the smallest one in major sports in North America, adding he feels the club has been successful because there is less competition from other sports.

In marketing, the Nordiques’ biggest success has been in promoting its rink boards.

Legault says 13 years ago, no one knew about or believed in the viability of ads on the boards.

Forged ahead

But the Nordiques forged ahead and packaged the rink boards with tickets and with advertising in the Colisee and on radio and in programs.

‘We’ve also done well in convincing national and international companies such as Chrysler, Bell Canada, Coca-Cola, Molson-O’Keefe, Maxwell House and PetroCan to get on board with us,’ Legault says.

‘These companies have stuck with us for years, and we’ve been very successful with them, and I gather they with us, especially in the marketing of their products in the eastern part of the province,’ he says.

And the Nordiques fans have been loyal to these companies, Legault says.

‘That’s how we are judged – our fans, in believing in us, also believe in our sponsors and partners,’ he says. ‘And by buying their products, they’ve made it easier to market our team.’

The club has about a $25-million budget for 1992-93, and half of that comes from ticket sales. Another 25% comes from promotional deals with companies.

Legault says these figures represent a 40% increase over last season’s budget due to a doubling in salaries – $8.2 million three years ago, compared with more than $17 million today.

The team spends the majority of its marketing budget on radio and print ads.

Legault says tv is not used because the cost is prohibitive.

‘We use a lot of radio because of its mobility and ease compared to any other media,’ he says.

Radiomutuel, a Quebec radio network, has been with the Nordiques the past three years, broadcasting up to four hours at each exhibition and regular season game.

Promotes

The station also promotes and advertises the club.

The Nordiques also advertise in two daily newspapers in Quebec City – Le Soleil and Le Journal de Quebec – plus local papers in surrounding cities.

‘In addition, we have punctual ad campaigns,’ Legault says. ‘We don’t do generalized corporate type of campaigns. We are very targetted, aggressive and punctual.’

For example, because the club does not deal with an ad agency, it can turn out its own promotions and advertising within hours.

The Nordiques are one of the few nhl clubs without an agency.

‘We do everything in-house,’ Legault says. ‘We have our own studio, graphics and creative people, and we do our own taping.’

The club has chosen this route because of the small market and the quickness with which the team has to react.

Cannot plan

‘When you have to sell tickets two days or two hours before a game, you just cannot plan as you could in a bigger market,’ Legault says.

He says the Nordiques also attempt to ‘personalize and humanize our games, rather than just present a spectacle of hockey.’

If the New York Rangers come to town, the Nordiques will advertise New York star Mark Messier head-to-head with Mike Ricci, or the St. Louis Blues’ Brett Hull photographed facing goalie Ron Hextall.

Legault says statistics prepared by nearby Laval University show there has been a shift in the type of crowd that is attending the Nordiques games.

‘So many more young people are coming,’ he says.

To accommodate the growing number of youngsters, teens and young adults, the club has scheduled several games during the afternoon on weekends.

‘That brings the crowd of tomorrow,’ Legault says.