Ottawa Senators add Zulu Alpha Kilo to its lineup

The NHL team hires a new agency to help it build fan excitement as its rebuilding begins to take shape.
Ottawa Senators_Zulu

The Ottawa Senators have made another big off-season pickup, though this one is off the ice.

The NHL team has picked Zulu Alpha Kilo to be its new ad agency, handling brand strategy, creative, digital development and production.

Before the pandemic resulted in a postponed and modified season, the Senators ranked last in the league in attendance as the team continued through a rebuilding phase; though it landed second-last in the league standings, it also picked up three first-round draft picks, on top of other trade and free agent acquisitions. The team has attempted various tactics to get attendance and interest back up, and a big part of Zulu’s assignment will be building excitement among fans as the rebuilding plan begins to take shape on the ice.

“You can really feel the positive momentum building within the organization,” says Mike Sutton, president at Zulu Alpha Kilo. “They have high expectations for the team on the ice and high expectations for the brand.”

PJ Loyello, SVP of communications and community relations, said the team identified a need to change its brand vision, direction and the way the Senators have been marketed as it emerged from its on-ice rebuild.

“The big goal is to continue to ignite the passion people in our region have for Senators Hockey,” he says. “We want to be known as innovative, creative and cutting edge,” pointing to things like using Ottawa native Alex Trebek to announce a pick during the draft.

The request for proposal process included agencies from both sides of the border. The team was worked with a variety of agencies the past, mostly based in Ottawa. Blackiron handled work for the team’s 25th anniversary celebrations and the Sens Foundation charity work, while Excentric has handled the team’s web design.

“We are in the midst of an exciting transformation here in Ottawa and we needed an agency that could help us both strategically and creatively,” says Eugene Melnyk, owner and governor of the Senators.

Adding a new agency isn’t the only change the team has made behind the scenes. After releasing some front office staff, including CMO Aimee Deziel, late last year, it has also injected some new expertise to its leadership in 2020, such as Loyello, who previously held a similar role with the MLB’s Miami Marlins. It also hired former Shaw CMO Jim Little as its CEO, aiming to bring his marketing and community building expertise to the club, though he was dismissed two months later for conduct the team deemed “inconsistent” with its values.

According to a recent Nielsen report, the pandemic has altered viewing habits, particularly when it comes to sports: the Stanley Cup Finals ratings were down 61%, part of an overall downward slump that include a nearly 50% drop in viewership for the recent NBA Finals.

In recent months, Zulu has added talent to its own lineup, such as CD Nick Asik and ACD Jenny Luong. It has also picked up new business with Campbell’s, working on a repositioning for its Goldfish brand.