Penguins Are Losing Focus on What’s Important

“Just Win, Baby.”

  • Al Davis – late owner of the Oakland Raiders

In the world of sports, no truer words have ever been spoken.

Al Davis knew the recipe for success in the business of professional athletics. In the mid-70’s through the mid-80’s, his Raiders were the scariest organization on the planet. Because they were mean, they were nasty, and they were the best at those two things. And all because of those three little words.


As a professional sports franchise, winning should be all that matters. However, there are some owners among the four major sports leagues of North America who value the almighty dollar over this trait.

What they fail to understand is that winning leads to more butts in the seats, which leads to more money.

Sports franchises are businesses to those who own and run them, and making money is of the utmost importance to these men and women.

There are two facets through which to make money: the logo and the brand. The logo is ultimately what puts those butts in the seats through ticket sales. Its the product on the field, or in our case with hockey, on the ice. The logo accounts for the majority of money made.

Lets face it, look at teams like the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders. Presently these are considered less-than-successful franchises, and their ticket sales show it.

The brand meanwhile, is how the general public perceives an organization. It can help drive merchandise sales which also plays a major role in income. But the brand runs deeper than that. The brand includes a team’s website, its presence in social media, and its interaction with the public through charitable events and appearances.

After some consideration in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ dismissal of GM Ray Shero, I’ve come to the conclusion that the line between logo and brand is becoming distorted for this hockey franchise.

Morehouse’s work.

The Penguins’ Brand

Under the guidance of team President and CEO David Morehouse, the Pens have adopted a very aggressive approach to its marketing strategies as well as its perception in the public eye.

Morehouse has instituted a number of public relations events such as having the players deliver season tickets to the fans, which has been a huge success (and quite exciting if you happen to be one of the lucky fans).

And I constantly see pictures of different Penguins players making appearances at the UPMC Children’s Hospital and Childrens’ Institute of Pittsburgh, putting smiles on kids’ faces who usually don’t have too much smile about.

The brand even includes the design of the Penguins’ website, from the colors to the font to its navigation.

All of these things are designed with the idea in mind of drawing in the fan, and making him or her want more.

This is a direct quote off the Penguins website from Morehouse’s profile:

– Since Morehouse was named President in April, 2007, the Penguins have reshaped their image and strategic vision with an emphasis on branding, fan relations, youth marketing, community interaction, corporate outreach and innovative technology.

It goes even deeper.

Have you been to a Pens game in the last seven or eight years? Notice the music thats playing? That’s all part of it. Its all designed with one thing in mind: to suck you in.

In layman’s terms, they want to brainwash you to a degree. No, the Pens aren’t trying to send you subliminal signals to buy a certain type of ice cream, or to make RC Cola your cola of choice.

But think of the focus that is put on the sellout streak (a streak which may very well come to end next season if the higher-ups don’t play their cards right). What they’re hoping for is for fans to take pride in the streak, and not wanting to see it end more so than coming to the games for the product on the ice.

I’m not saying that they’re trying to distract you from what’s on the ice, but…

The logo should always be the highest priority.
The logo should always be the highest priority.

The Penguins Logo

In my world, this is what its all about.

The Logo.

There’s an old saying in hockey that you play for the logo on the front of the sweater, not the name on the back of it.

If you take a tour of Consol Energy Center and you’re fortunate enough to see the locker room, there are explicit instructions NOT to step on the logo in the center of the room. Every die-hard hockey fan knows this.

The logo is what the GM’s primary focus is. Its his job to build a team that is capable of going out and winning, night after night. The logo, quite simply, is the main product to which fans should devote the all of their energy and passion.

Ultimately its the logo, and the work that is put in to making what’s behind it a better product, that will win the Stanley Cup.

I fear the Penguins have lost sight of that.

The Fallout From Last Friday

The Penguins needed a fall guy, and Ray Shero was their man.

However, its what WAS NOT said (that was reported no more than an hour earlier by every hockey writer who follows the Penguins to some degree) at that fateful press conference that has me most troubled.

Dan Bylsma, the one guy on whom all Pens fans could agree should not return next season, was somehow inexplicably retained.

This goes to tell me that the Penguins, like a well-oiled political machine, are controlling the narrative out of their campaign.

This is particularly disturbing because politicians (by the way, politics are Morehouse’s background, not hockey) aren’t interested in the truth. They’re sole interest is whatever will help them achieve their agenda and get people in their corner.

Co-owner Mario Lemieux is the hockey guy at the top. Ron Burkle, until last friday anyway, was simply the money, and Morehouse was the guy in charge of just about everything off the ice.

Morehouse delivered the news to the gathered media at Consol Energy Center and the fans either watching on tv, via the internet or listening on the radio that Shero had been let go, and Bylsma had not. Considering his background, pretty scary stuff from the guy who oversees most of the Penguins’ operation, and word is he wants more power through a say in hockey operations.

Thats like me wanting a say in the South African space program.

Bottom line, the Penguins seem to be losing grip on what’s most important. It seems as though, from every news article and tweet from trusted sources that I read, the politicians in power within the Pens organization are the ones wielding the biggest stick.

A bit of advice for those in the biggest offices: the best approach is the simplest approach.

Just win, baby.


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