Fans demand tradition in Winnipeg

Socially Smart - Jon Waldman
Socially Smart – Jon Waldman

Back in 2011, Mark Chipman made one of the most influential announcements in the history of Winnipeg sports – he, on behalf of his partners at True North Sports and Entertainment (TNSE), declared that his newly purchased hockey team was going to be titled the “Winnipeg Jets.”
Over the years, Chipman has spoken a few times about the decision and his personal preference to have the team named something different. At the time, there were several names bandied about, not the least of which was the Winnipeg “Bears,” a tribute in Chipman’s mind to the prosperity of northern Manitoba and the polar bear population therein.
But fan outcry demanded the Jets name, which had been used since the 1960s (yes, the moniker predated the World Hockey Association), and TNSE ultimately bowed to public opinion, resurrecting the Jets nickname.
Flash forward nearly four-and-a-half years, and another dilemma stared TNSE square in the eye. Their Jets were on the verge of making the National Hockey League’s postseason, and buzz that had been silenced for a few years with the playoffs seeming like a pipe dream, was now becoming very loud.
The topic? The White Out.
For the uninitiated, the White Out was born during the Jets 1.0 era, with radio beckoning for fans to wear white to show support for the Jets. At the time, the NHL member clubs wore white or light colours (read: ugly yellow if you were a Vancouver Canuck) on home ice rather than for away games.
Look back at photos from the day and you’ll see the familiar white jerseys, caps with no bend at the brim, and turtlenecks along with pompoms dotting the Winnipeg Arena. The fashion was hideous (save for the jersey), but the view was intimidating. It has since been imitated by the likes of the Calgary Flames and the Red Mile.
And this was before you had the rabid fanbase that inhabits the MTS Centre today with taunts like “Who’s your captain?” or “Crosby’s better!” making visiting teams quiver on their bench.
This group of hardcores, both those who were alive during the time of the first White Out or the sons and daughters of those folk, were going to ensure, one way or another, that the tradition was going to continue.
I dare say that even if TNSE attempted to make a “Blue Wave” or something of that ilk, the residents of the 300-level of the MTS Centre would still have worn white. This wasn’t something that was quashable like #HelmetPardy – this was a movement built on decades of history.
Rolling out the White Out
So it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone when TNSE fully embraced the White Out. Mere moments after the Jets secured their playoff spot, the Jets’ Twitter and Facebook accounts lit up with a simple message: Our Team. Our Tradition. A more elaborate message followed that soon trended in Winnipeg.
It then didn’t take long for product to roll out. T-shirts were quickly stocked then re-stocked at Jets Gear stores while the white away jerseys were snapped up like never before.
Of course, the careful planning that went into releasing news about the White Out was likely done some time ago with serious conversations and conceptualizing (probably happening during the NHL All-Star Break when the Jets first showed signs of being playoff bound).
These sorts of marketing and publicity messages don’t happen overnight, and you have to give TNSE credit for executing a perfect plan.
While the Jets may not win the Stanley Cup this year, they did win over their fans – not just by stellar play on the ice, but by great planning and the embracement of tradition off of it.
Jon Waldman is a marketing and communications expert in Winnipeg. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonwaldman or connect with him at jonwaldman@shaw.ca.

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