The Toronto Maple Leafs are selling fans on their new roster, star players, and a renewed sense of optimism for the 2021-22 season. I did say selling, as in advertising. They are not hiding that this is a primary pitch to the audience. The team called the opening of training camp Marketing Day. This theme-based event is new. In the past, this day has been interviews with players we haven’t heard from all summer. To title it Marketing Day shows just how much work the team has to do to change the narrative, externally and perhaps internally as well.
The franchise is a business, after all, so marketing its product makes sense. But of all the teams in NHL that need advertising and promotion help, Toronto is not one of them. Instead, this is a strategic communications plan indicating the organization is still in damage control and trying to alter its reputation. Who can blame them? The theme around this team has not been kind this offseason. A fifth straight early playoff exit, perhaps the worst one yet, was followed by people burning jerseys and social media hate escalating to a new level. In the ensuing months, fans, observers and analysts have demanded trades, firings, just about anything to change the plot.
Same Maple Leafs, Different Story
There were some changes, but at its core, this is pretty much the same team that failed to break through only a few months ago. So, the Maple Leafs have a tough sell to convince the audience things will be different this time. This Marketing Day is much more like a crisis communications strategy. The team is not worried about selling jerseys or tickets; it is selling a message; the key points are hope, optimism and belief.
Critical to any crisis communications plan are simple, repeatable messages. These key messages should portray acceptance, reassurance and most importantly, a go-forward plan. General manager, Kyle Dubas, made those messages known within the first seconds of taking the podium to address the media. “Today is our opportunity to move past that (playoff loss) and begin to focus on the things that we control in the present to change that story in the future,” said a smiling Dubas.
Reporters were not moving past it, the same questions asked for the last three months and a half months were possed. So how does the team get past the playoff loss and the disappointment? “Yeah, it’s a great question,” answered Dubas. “I think that we can look back and learn from it, but we only control what we do today and every day moving forward.”
Maple Leafs Stick to the Messages
The same line of questioning went to Auston Matthews. Again, his answer showed he was reading the same key messages. “Yeah, it’s a good question,” said Matthews, offering acceptance and then, like a media professional, he pivoted to reassurance and a plan. “I think with what happened, there’s nothing that we can really change now, right. So we gotta put our best foot forward, and that’s kind of been my mindset all summer is to learn from that and use it as motivation and put my best foot forward and focused on the present.”
Mitch Marner made it clear he would be repeating the same things, “Something you are going to be hearing a lot from me, focusing on the here and now.” But, Marner continued, “the past is the past. I can’t do anything about that now. I’ve just got to focus on being the best I can be right now, be the best player I can be, like I said, help this team win games.”
Maple Leafs Marketing is Strong
Investopedia defined marketing like this: Marketing refers to activities a company undertakes to promote a product or service. Promotions are targeted to certain audiences and may involve celebrity endorsements, catchy phrases or slogans, memorable packaging or graphic designs and overall media exposure.
Toronto hit every element on Marketing Day. The celebrity endorsements are the players lead by Matthews, the latest cover athlete for the NHL 22. As detailed earlier, there were many catchy phrases and slogans. The packaging and graphic design came in a new collaboration between the team and Justin Bieber’s clothing line Drew.
Toronto will also get another significant marketing boost when Amazon releases its latest All or Nothing production on October 1. This five-part docuseries is a marketing piece as it’s believed teams portrayed in these productions have a level of editorial control. What Toronto can’t control is how fast the fan base moves on from last season. But if Marketing Day, day one of the season, is any indication, it’s a top priority for the team.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.