For a while there, the Ottawa-Toronto rivalry was as fierce as any in the NHL. But the team from the nation’s capital looked to Toronto when it wanted to add an important new player to its rebuilding effort, hiring Zulu Alpha Kilo as its creative agency. The long-term agreement includes brand strategy, creative, digital development, and production.
“We identified there was a need for a change in our brand vision, direction and how we have been marketing the team over the last few years,” said P.J. Loyello, who joined the organization as senior vice-president, communications and community relations early this year. “As we emerge from our on-ice rebuild, the timing could not be better to be partnering with this very creative agency to help us communicate that progress to our market.”
The Senators invited about half-a-dozen agencies across both Canada and the U.S. to pitch the business before narrowing the list down to three during the summer, said Loyello. All of the pitches were coordinated via Zoom.
“They ran a great process,” said Zulu Alpha Kilo president Mike Sutton of the pitch, which also included conversations with team owner Eugene Melynk. “In any organization we start working with, we want to meet with the leadership and make that connection with them so we know that we’re headed in the right direction,” said Sutton. “[He had] off-the-charts passion.”
While Zulu Alpha Kilo has never worked directly with a professional sports franchise, it has amassed what Sutton described as a “deep body of work” in sports, including the Tim Hortons campaign “The Away Game” and various efforts for Bell around its Olympics sponsorship.
“Simply put, we liked their creativity and thorough understanding of our brand,” said Loyello. “They understood the passion of our fanbase and what our owner and general manager did over the last couple of years to improve the overall product on the ice. They understand our excitement, and we believe they can best convey that message effectively and creatively.”
The Senators made headlines during last month’s NHL draft when they used a video of longtime Jeopardy host Alex Trebek to announce their selection of Tim Stützle with the third overall pick. This is an example of the “unique direction” the Senators would like to take their marketing, said Loyello.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) October 6, 2020
Sutton said that the agency is currently working on strategy and creative development for the Senators. Asked if there are any model sports franchises the agency might look towards for inspiration, Sutton said the successful sports brands are not just a product of marketing, but the overall fan experience and the identity of their fanbase.
“I would look to the Green Bay Packers or Liverpool F.C. and the connection they have with fans who feel they’re really part of the organizations,” he said. Within the NHL community, he said, the Vegas Golden Knights, with their mastery of social media and ability to spark and participate in online conversations, are another model franchise.
Sports is going to look markedly different for the foreseeable future, with a return to play for the NHL still undecided (although a January start appears likely). The fact that games might not take place in front of a live crowd adds an additional layer of complexity, said Sutton.
“What every team is going to be trying to figure out is how do you create a great fan experience when people can’t be in the arena. A lot of the connection with the brand and the organization happens inside that building, so how do we do that virtually?”