January 25, 2006

The Omaha AkSarBen Knights...what went wrong?

I'm not talking NEARLY enough hockey on this blog, so I'm going to jump back in with both feet. Today in the Omaha World Herald, Joe Clark wrote an interesting article about the Knights and their struggle to stay afloat in the nation's #75 ranked TV market. In the article, the Knights GM discusses the reasoning behind their dead-last attendance ranking.

Now, some of you already know my take on this subject, and some of you don't. Either way, I'm going to reset this one last time. I've worked in sports marketing in this town since 1995, and have worked with several members of the Knights. One thing I have noticed is that there are distinct reasons behind the madness with both the Knights, and the suddenly-struggling Omaha Royals. If you keep that in mind, you will see SEVERAL reasons behind the train wreck that is the Omaha AkSarBen Knights. Here is how I see it.

Reason #1) Doug Soetaert, Knights GM puts the blame on both the late start for the front office, as well as Calgary's decision to keep young, talented players on the NHL roster, instead of sending them to Omaha. I'm not sure why Mr. Stoetaert thinks this is some sort of new concept. Doesn't EVERY Minor League team deal with this problem? If you look at successful minor league franchises in ANY sport, you see the same kinda thing....smaller city, outside of a metro area...with a new stadium/park that families can go for cheap entertainment. The Knights are competitive in price..but the other two factors are against them.

Reason #2) Omaha hates Pro Sports. This is a debatable topic, but rest assured....this town will, has been and always will be Husker land. There is no way to escape it. There is a reason a Husker vollyball game drew 15,000 people, and a different NCAA regional drew 800. What about the explosion of Husker baseball? It's all about the N on the uniform. What's that? You say, "Explain Creighton?" Easy. Creighton is the product of Omaha fans yearning for a winner in a winter sport. Rest assured..if Creighton was 8-22 next year, and the Huskers won the Big 12, the Qwest would be as empty as Kevin Federline's Grammy shelf. It's not a BAD thing..it's just reality.

Reason #3) Out of town owners ALWAYS fail in this market. Hell, even local owners fail in this market, because they fail to see reason #2. The ONLY reason the Omaha Royals were 3rd in America in minor league baseball attendance in the late 90's (when Omaha based UP and Warren Buffett owned the team) was because they would do anything they could to get people into the park, and not push the "minor" league experience to their fans. Face it, Omaha fans think of their teams and their events as top notch. It's true with the Royals, Creighton, UNO hockey and the CWS. People HATE to be insulted with CONSTANT promotions and minor-league style events. It's not a conscious thing....it's a comfort thing. People are turned off by it. People are insulted by it. This is why the Racers failed. This is why the Royals are failing. And this is why the Knights are going to fail as well.

Reason #4) The Omaha Civic Auditorium is a dump. You can dress it up all you want. You can claim it's louder, more fan friendly or whatever. (And that may have some valid points.) However, if you are a MARGINAL hockey fan, and you have friends in town...where are you going to go watch a game? At the Qwest where it's close to the Old Market, with it's jumbo-tron and great concession stands? Or the Civic, where you have to park on the street and eat Honeycorn Popcorn that has been sitting in the concourse since the Reagan administration? The hard-core fans are going to go where their team is. The moderate-casual fan is going to go where the comfort/flash is. The fact that the Knights are actually touting as "best venue" isn't helping things much...if anything, it's a slap to any normal person's intelligence.

Reason #5) The name is stupid. I understand that the Knights of AkSarBen wanted to get into the deal and didn't want to give up the old Knights name. I understand that it HAD to be Knights, one way or another....but to add a FICTIONAL philanthropic name in front of a Omaha Legendary name is flat out stupid. Sure, the name doesn't mean much...but it's all about credibility. If you are trying to get CASUAL fans into your building, the last thing you want them to do is think about how stupid your name is. Logo and sweaters are great...but the name is a definite turnoff.

So what will happen to our friends in the AHL? Will they right the ship and find that extra "40% increase" that Soetaert was bragging about? (Desipte the fact that all of those attendance boosts happened AFTER the Alamo Bowl, when Omaha sports fans start obsessing about other sports) Unlikely. Mr. Soetaert's problem is the fact that he has NO CLUE how this town works or what makes the fans tick. You CANNOT throw out more "wacky" promotions to get people in the seats. you CANNOT bitch about your problems in the newspaper. You CANNOT throw country music at the fans who did bother to show up and expect them to love it. (Because you think it's a cowtown and people don't know any better.) What you MUST do is embrace your position as 5th fiddle in the town of Huskerville. The sooner you get over yourselves and figure out your customer...the better off you will be.

If the Flames were smart, they would have done more research on the lemon that MECA sold them before they drove it off the lot. Meanwhile, as they fight for their financial lives, Roger Dixon and the rest of the MECA board laugh all the way to the bank...probably passing the graves of all the other failed ownership groups along the way.

We shall see.


Blogger something_something said...

That is, unequivocally, THE best blog post I've ever seen anywhere.

Seriously. Take a bow, AJ.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Whooter said...

Well done, my friend.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

Let's get Robert Stack and Unsolved Mysteries on it...

1:59 PM  
Blogger Husker Mike said...

I think you nailed the problems there. Unfortunately, I'll bet you'll get some yahoo who will demand that UNO and the OAK's swap arenas (since both aren't drawing to their expectations)...

5:22 PM  
Blogger Whooter said...

I won't demand it, but I wouldn't mind seeing it.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

In theory, you could have both at the Q, along with basketball. It would take some juggling of schedules as well as double-headers on some weekends, but it's definately doable.

Plenty of arenas have three primary tenants. MSG, Staples, Continental Arena just to name a few.

That doesn't mean it's bloody likely though.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous FormerRoyal said...

As a former front office staff for the Royals, I just have to say that this is brilliant. Everything you said were things we fought all season. Our fans are ticked off because of the new ballpark and are threatening not to renew their season tickets. Rosenblatt is falling apart, but it is kept up just enough cosmetically to look good during the CWS. And the management has put into place new people who cannot do their job and treat this Triple A baseball club like it is nothing more than high school ball. It's appalling. And at the end of the day all they care about are the Huskers. Thank you for putting into words all the frustrations I felt when I worked there. It's about time someone said it!

10:41 PM  

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