Anaheim Ducks Have Matured From ‘Mighty’ Marketing to NHL Success Story

Sports are a business and marketing is integral to the success of a team and for the longevity of the organization. When The Mighty Ducks movies hit theaters and the subsequent NHL franchise broke ground, one thing was certain, no one was sure. No one was sure what the Mighty Ducks NHL team meant for the league or for Disney. Big business went into sports. Disney went into the hockey business and it was not hyperbole.

Grit and Game

Hockey is routinely described as gritty, hard hitting and violent, meanwhile, Disney is described as magical, childlike, and the “happiest place on Earth.” The two meeting were thought to be an unsuccessful nightmare. The style of play and the style of marketing brought together by this undeniable feat is simply unparalleled in sports business.

The team brought a new flare to the expansion draft of 1993, after Disney had made a move into sports and changed the industry forever.

Mighty Ducks Movie poster (THW Archives)

Steve Brill, the writer of The Mighty Ducks movies was an unemployed writer who dreamt of writing a movie that would inspire people much like The Bad News Bears did for him. The Mighty Ducks did so much more than that, though.

The Mighty Ducks were known for over the top pre-games and tinker bell pixie dust, but the Anaheim Ducks were known for their hard-hitting hockey and as a winning team.

Marketing of The Mighty Ducks

The Mighty Ducks made history in more ways than being the newest team of the NHL in the ’90s. They paved the way as marketing gods in athletics. Disney marketing is what made the team successful and brought fans from a new demographic into the sport and, therefore, grew the sport even further. The iconic ’90s vibe of the Mighty Ducks aged well and is arguably the most loved logo in sports history.

The Mighty Ducks expanded hockey’s market to new heights and brought yet another team to California. Many may have viewed them as soft, but that’s the last thing you can say about the smartest marketing plan in athletics.

Flashback to 1993 when Gretzky was coming to LA and skating was gaining traction on the West Coast. The Mighty Ducks movies were Disney’s latest hit and they were quickly becoming more of a reality. Disney was getting into sports in a big way.

Mighty Ducks Success

Coming into the league, The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were looked at by the rest of the league as childish. The Mighty Ducks movie was incredibly successful and it initiated a firestorm of merchandise and consistent game attendance where they sold out 27 of their first 41 home games. While the movies were a box office success, the team packed the Pond to the rim.

They sold 98.9 percent of seats in their first season because it was a show and a game. In their first game, their pre-game show cost $430,000 to put on, and it was locked in — fans were hooked. While the team play was more similar to the movie than to the NHL style of play for the era, the Ducks were incredibly successful that first season and recorded 33 wins, 46 losses and 5 ties, making history for most wins by any new expansion team in history.

The Mightiest Ducks

In 2005, in an end of an era move, Disney sold the Mighty Ducks to Henry and Susan Samueli and the Anaheim Ducks era began. The Pond was now the Honda Center and their logo was fully redesigned.

In an article from ESPN, Teemu Selanne said, “I’m very happy they kept the ‘Ducks’ because it’s the original name,” he said. “Taking the ‘Mighty’ away makes it more of a business. I think it’s fine. With the new owners, I think they wanted a new identity.” While the Mighty Ducks may now live on in athletic perfection, the team’s fan base grew to expect and adore a more traditional style of play.

The team brought the Cup to California for the first time in 2007.

California was now the newest competitor in the league and a force to be reckoned with. Over the course of their 27-year history, the team has made playoffs 14 times and has won six Pacific Division titles and two Western Conference championships.

Paul Kariya
Paul Kariya, Anaheim Mighty Ducks (Photo by: Brian Bahr/Getty Images/NHLI)

In an article from The NY Times, “While the National Hockey League has restricted contact and condemned violence, the Ducks have proved that fighting still works both as a promotional tool and a strategic technique,” Anaheim general manager Brian Burke said of the 2007 Stanley Cup winners. (from ‘Anaheim Has Gone From Warm and Fuzzy to Fiery and Nasty,’ New York Times, 04/11/2007)

Anaheim had the best marketing, which led them to success on and off the ice to expand and take hold of a new market. Their drive to target a family market is what made the team monetarily accomplished, including their use of Disney’s expertise as a public relations giant and a sought-after business model. As time passed and hockey evolved, the Anaheim Ducks became a force to be reckoned with shortly thereafter. Violence and hard-fought games were the name of the game and right-winger George Parros played into that revamping.

George Parros Ducks
George Parros (Icon SMI)

Bringing on an enforcer the same year that Disney sold the franchise totally changed the name of the game — it was now the era of enforcers and winning seasons.

Marketing vs. Success

As with any sports organization, first and foremost they are a business looking to make money and a team second. The Ducks’ transition from marketing blessed to an NHL success story was a stark change from family friendly to a successful Stanley Cup winner. The organization made it digestible for newer fans and slowly introduced them to a style just unparalleled enough to work successfully.

Their style of play post-Disney sale was beyond what anyone thought possible for the franchise, but the way they were written off opened the door for a whole new unexpected style of play for the NHL. And so the marketing of the past and the grit of the present worked together to open the door for a great style of play that was home to head-to-head hockey as well as highly competitive, and the Ducks’ legacy was born.

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