The Carolina Hurricanes organization had a whirlwind weekend, as emergency goalie Dave Ayres led the team to a 6-3 win in Toronto, the first-ever recorded win by an NHL emergency goalie. The team, in turn, is trying to balance the historic night with a potentially catastrophic turn of events.
The 42-year-old Ayres, a zamboni driver for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, has turned into an overnight sensation and potential sports story of the year, and the Hurricanes marketing team jumped into action mid-way through the third period Saturday night. Within an hour after the game finished, Carolina had a T-shirt jersey with Ayres name and number available for sale on the website.
Within 14 hours on Sunday morning, more than 3,000 of the shirts had been sold in seven countries, according to the Hurricanes.
“It was nuts,” Mike Forman, Hurricanes vice president of marketing and brand strategy, said. “I wasn’t any different than any other fan, watching on TV at home, two teams in a tight playoff race and then the dominoes started to fall.”
In Toronto, the Maple Leafs scored on their first shots against Ayres after both of the Hurricanes roster goalies were injured in the game, bringing the score to 4-3. But Carolina played well in the third, scoring twice to extend the lead. That’s when Forman and his team kicked into action, texting back and forth.
They knew a good T-shirt capturing a moment would sell well, following last year’s “Bunch of Jerks,” a phrase still symbolic of the team and the fun it has on the ice. As the third period continued to wind down, the team’s head graphic designer worked on a shirt and the retail team made sure a website link was ready for purchasing so the two could be launched at the same time.
Forman credits the organizational buy-in, from ownership to his department, for working and trusting each other on such a quick turnaround. The release of the T-shirt within an hour of the game was quicker than the “Bunch of Jerks” shirt, which took about 18 hours.
The team also quickly decided to share royalties – the details still in negotiation – with Ayres, with some proceeds also heading to kidney foundations. Ayres himself received a kidney transplant in 2004.
The Hurricanes were also quick to capitalize on the outsized attention the story brought, from a postgame locker room video to a general increase in social posts. Forman said outlets beyond sports media, including the Ellen DeGeneres Show have reached out – without realizing Ayres isn’t part of the Hurricanes organization.
“I’m really proud of the content produced,” Forman said. “The video, social and editorial. That’s why you travel with a video producer, not just highlights of the game, but these moments you never know will happen.
“It might look reactive, but there are proactive elements because you never know what might happen and you have to be prepared for the unexpected and I feel like we were with the right people there and people prepared here.”
The Hurricanes’ buy-in from the top-down when it comes to marketing has been evident since “Bunch of Jerks,” Vincenzo Landino, CEO of Landino Group, said. Ayres’ win and ensuing hours was what teams should aspire to when it comes to marketing, Landino said.
“That is the kind of nimble environment organizations want to build,” he said. “It allows social and marketing teams to respond to things that happen over the course of a season organically. There’s no knee jerk reactions, rather, well thought out, authentic response.
“The season is long, and players have stories outside of skating on the ice. Leveraging these stories to band a fan base together is the difference between doing a good job and doing a great job.”
While the moment is historic and viral for the Hurricanes, it also represents a potentially bittersweet turn of events in the season. In the tight Atlantic Division, every point counts as the season nears a close and now the team has seen its two main goalies and a solid defenseman injured.
Unlike the “Bunch of Jerks” retail launch last year, which was all in fun and helped spur a playoff run, this has a potentially negative effect on the team’s season-ending stretch.
“We’re trying to talk about this crazy, unbelievable story and marketing play, but this is a different feeling than ‘Bunch of Jerks,’” Forman said. “It’s riding a high of the night and the low of what it could mean and finding the right balance.
“Unless the team goes out and wins 22 games straight, I don’t envision this being the overall rallying cry that it was last year – definitely a shorter shelf life.”