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Anaheim Ducks Marketing Audit – Product

After a couple posts off, I’m ready to resume the Anaheim Ducks Marketing Audit series. For those that need a quick refresher, I decided to use my in-progress MBA to analyze the Ducks according to the traditional five Ps of marketing (Price, Product, Promotion, Place, People).

After waiting weeks for the team to finish its moves, two events this week have signaled to me that it’s finally time to write the Product piece: the Samueli interview with the OC Register and the newest NHL Shop catalog.

In this post, I’ll examine the Ducks as a both an on-ice product and an off-ice brand.

The Hockey Product
In 2009-10, the Ducks did something they hadn’t done since the Lockout—they missed the playoffs. In fact, since the magical 2006-07 season, the Ducks steadily hemorrhaged points each year, dropping from 110 in 2006-2007 all the way down to 91 points last season. As I calculated in my preseason predictions, claiming the 8th spot in the Western Conference has required an average of just over 92 points in the past three seasons. In that context, the 2009-10 season may not have been as miserable as it seemed on the surface. However, in the context of their brand, the 2009-2010 season was an abject failure.

As an on-ice product, the Ducks have been a reasonably strong and well-defined brand. With repeat playoff appearances (and the ability to advance through playoff rounds), the Ducks had established themselves as a gritty, defensively-sound team capable of grinding out wins while doling out punishment. However, trades of key shut-down players like Chris Pronger and Sammy Pahlsson, dubious defensive pick-ups like Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski, and Scott Niedermayer’s descent toward mere mortality combined to create the perfect storm of defensive futility. Sure, the injuries to players like Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne retarded scoring (so did way too many games with Kyle Calder), but the Ducks essentially lost their identity last season. Stuck in a lurch, the team could never decide if it was supposed to out-score opponents.

Fast-forward to this past off-season. The Ducks lost Niedermayer before the Draft, and it was apparent that Wisniewski wasn't long for Anaheim. As the July 1st opening of Free Agency loomed, it was obvious that the Ducks would need to reload their blue line. Even then, it seemed that the team might have to shift their approach and attitude going into the coming year. While the additions of bigger D-men like Sutton and Mara should help the Ducks get back some of their grit, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the Ducks will now define themselves by their offense. Bob Murray seemed to suggest as much in an interview posted yesterday on the Ducks’ official Web site.

It remains to be seen how this new look will play out, but I, for one, am ready to embrace this approach. As Henry Samueli revealed in the aforementioned OC Register article, the team is pretty much set in terms of budget, so this approach to the roster will probably be their plan going into the season. While I doubt the Ducks would completely avoid adding a little more payroll if the right opportunity presented itself, the team is clearly in some degree of tough financial footing. Although the economy is certainly a huge factor, the Ducks drop-off over the past few years is also a contributing factor. So here’s a legitimate question: If the Ducks are successful in remaking themselves as a high-scoring team, will that prove to be more attractive to the casual fan than a team that physically grinds out wins? It will be interesting to see.

This may seem like a total stretch to come up with a theme for a post, but I truly believe that a good team has some sort of identity. While not exactly the same thing, Murray mentioned that last year’s team lacked chemistry. I think that if the team can get clear from day one what their identity will be (and the newly loaded power play in combination with Bobby Ryan at center seems to send that message loud and clear), Randy Carlyle has a known affinity for a grinding bottom-six. Whether or not the team can establish three scoring lines will go a long way to determining how successful the Ducks will be this season.

The Merchandise
While obviously not as important as the on-ice product, the way a team brands itself through merchandise also has a huge impact on how successful that team will be in its community. As far as brand goes, the Ducks have a logo and style that really seem to echo their home. The colors are bright without being gaudy, and the more current logo represents a maturity and seriousness that may not have been so accurately conveyed in the Disney years.

But all the awesome branding and stylish logos in the world won’t do any good if the NHL doesn’t take you seriously. And as best as I can tell from perusing the merchandise and speaking to Ducks personnel, the NHL certainly does not take our franchise seriously.

When the NHL likes you, you get to order smaller quantities of items. So that’s why the more established teams (read: Washington, Pittsburgh, Detroit, NYR, San Jose, Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, and Chicago, with the occasional Philadelphia, Boston, and New Jersey love) get to experiment with really fun looking items like varsity jackets, baseball jerseys, classy hoodies, and more. Hell, they even get maternity clothes while the other twenty-something franchises are left with nothing to indicate that they’re baking hockey-loving, Red Wing-hating fans.

If the NHL doesn’t like you, you’re left with pretty milquetoast merch that is standard throughout the league. Sure, you have a hoodie, a polo, and a few shirts, but you’re not going to see a sweet Old-Time Hockey sweater. As it was explained to me, because the NHL doesn’t trust the Ducks to move merchandise, they limit the quantities in which the Ducks can order. As a result, Anaheim’s merchandising people are reluctant to order items that they cannot guarantee will sell. So while we’re inundated with Affliction-style tees (there are better examples in the store at Honda Center), I can’t get any cool kids items for Trevor’s nursery.

This effectively means the Ducks are forced to make a choice that other clubs can ignore. The Ducks’ merchandising folks must strategically order only those items they are confident they can move. While I would love to claim I could single-handedly support the decision to order a Ducks baseball-style jersey, it’s unfair to put that on the club. My biggest issue here is that the merchandising policies should be universal league wide—if Anaheim’s minimum order quantity is over 100, Detroit shouldn’t be able to order a third of that amount.

One last word on the merch front: I’m positively giddy that the Ducks are finally getting a third jersey with the new colors and style. Not only does that put them on equal footing with almost every other team in the league (I can’t remember off-hand, but I think there are only five or so teams without a third), but it should bolster merchandise sales. And given the financial state of this team, increased merchandise sales can only be a positive.

In Conclusion
As a product, the Ducks are slightly battered, but still strong (think Toyota). Even though they’ve had their share of recent problems, the Ducks do have a strong brand that is popular in the community. While they’ll need to redefine themselves moving forward (think Three Scoring Lines™ instead of Toyota’s safety-first campaign), I think the Ducks have a reasonably valuable and marketable product. The team will need to find success (and quickly) to successfully rebrand itself, but I think this team is capable of such things.

What do you think? Do the Ducks have an easily identifiable brand? Does this even matter in this day and age? Also, if you could get the Ducks to offer one item they currently do not, what would it be?