The confluence of the Kings' hockey and business operations is a strong and viable union
Forty-one years had passed between the first Los Angeles Kings game at the Long Beach Arena and the first time Drew Doughty set foot on the Staples Center ice in a Kings jersey. A Kings fan since his youth, the surroundings weren’t familiar for the 18-year-old, who had set foot in California for the first time only several months prior.
The team was in the process of digging out from a concerted rebuild at the time, or in the words of the endearingly blunt and honest defenseman, “the team had kind of been in the dumps for a little while.”
And while the Kings had already dug into its foothold amidst Los Angeles’ sports space, it really was only that – a grip to sink feet into to spring upward. The team history, though dating back as far as all but six National Hockey clubs, was bereft of the most noteworthy accomplishments and had one conference championship and one division championship to recall in its history.
The Kings are now vying to win their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, and when thinking about his own public persona and the level of recognition around the city and the players’ preferred South Bay epicenter, Doughty says the circumstances have “changed drastically.”
“We’ll go out for dinner, the beards we all have don’t help,” he says. “But back in the day we could just pretty much roll in anywhere, and there’s no way anyone would know who you were, no possible way, and now it kind of seems everywhere we do go, we are getting recognized. It’s kind of more like when you’re back home in Canada.”
“It’s changed drastically. I don’t know if I like it better or not. I for sure don’t like it better, actually.”
He’s speaking of the public recognition, not the team’s success, and he’ll live with it.
It’s a byproduct of the confluence of the team’s successful on-ice and off-ice product, a constructive harmony of hockey operations and business operations.
Ticketing and sponsorship revenue has risen sharply in the last two seasons and was referenced in the Sports Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 profile of AEG Sports COO Kelly Cheeseman.
The access to team news, information and content both in front of and behind closed doors has been an important step. KingsVision, the team’s Telly Award-winning video department that put together the incredibly well renowned Stanley Cup Moments series, has grown in size both of full time employees and freelance contractors. The team’s social media department has backed its notorious “To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you're welcome,” tweet during the 2012 playoff series against Vancouver with a successful push to expand the team’s digital presence through an active and thorough conversation on its own social media hub as well as Instagram, Vine, Facebook and Twitter. Online communities have arisen from the beat writing LA Kings Insider platform as well as LetsGoKings.com, and well regarded writers and bloggers are hired to write stories for the team’s website.
The team’s commitment to fundraising through the Kings Care Foundation has also hit record figures (hyperlink: http://kings.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=669526), and through a two-week stretch in January and February produced one million dollar checks to Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, followed up by $275,000 raised at the annual Tip-A-King, the team’s single largest fundraising effort. In the announcement of the schedule of every passing playoff series, there’s the reminder that the team is hosting a platelet drive through Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Cup Final schedule.
There was, of course, an outdoor game in January that drew over 54,000 fans to Dodger Stadium.
It’s all comes together to represent the high point of the union of hockey and business operations.
“What we wanted is close,” President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille said. “We learned to live together and the greatest thing is once we understood Dean’s plan, we went around and made sure that as an organization and for the Kings fans that we had the same plan.”
“I clearly remember meeting dozens of season seat holders and explaining to them our rebuilding plan. What Dean was working on and the way Mr. Anschutz has been with us, where he never turns us down as long as we stick to the plan. I think our fans, over time, they got a to a point where they trusted the Kings organization and AEG. And it’s been a lot of fun to build that kind of trust between our fans and everybody and obviously our players. Now, as an organization, we’re more family than I think this organization has ever been.”
It’s a harmony that those in hockey operations have certainly noticed. And while the Kings won’t draw the same type of attention as the Lakers or the Dodgers in the market, the level of recognition and support of the team locally makes its way back to the players and coaches.
“I live in Manhattan Beach here, not Los Angeles, and everybody knows what’s going on with the Kings, and that’s pretty cool because it’s a small town…atmosphere, and they know what’s going on,” Darryl Sutter said.
The local ratings for Game 1 tend to back Sutter’s assessment. With a 7.1 metered market share, far more eyes were on the television in 2014 than there were to start the 2012 series.
“If what we see in the Final is anything like what we've seen in the first three rounds, it should be captivating, entertaining and cause people to want to tune in,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Obviously the fact that you're dealing with the two biggest cities in North America has an impact by sheer volume. The number of media credentialed for this, I think, is at an all-time high for any NHL event.”
Winning makes everything else easier, and a strong commitment to accompanying the hockey operations with a business plan that looks to sustain the off-ice success and interest has produced a high water mark for a franchise that until earlier this decade had seen only intermittent success at both.
“I think it all goes together,” Robitaille said. “You’ve got to run a good business to be able to put a team together that will win and help, because if you’re not doing it right as a group, no one wants to write a check every year. I think that’s the thing. We’ve always talked about we wanted to be one of the best organizations in sports, not just in hockey, in sports. Everything we’re doing, you hear us talking about we want to be first-class. Let’s treat our players the best way or the families. We do the best we can with our fans and everything we do around. When you’re doing that, you want to make sure you run the right business and be responsible in everything you’re doing and being able to give back. I think it all goes hand in hand. You have to make sure that you bring in the right revenue to help spend it. But there is one thing about Mr. Anschutz, all I know is I tell people that he’s never said no to us over anything we’ve ever asked him, which to me is absolutely incredible.”
The result will be that Doughty should expect more recognition over time, because this team isn’t set up for flash in the pan success. This is sustainable.
“I’d rather have that problem and be a winner than not have the problem and lose,” Doughty said.