Amid the seemingly never-ending negative news cycle surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, people – and especially sports fans – are looking for a reprieve from the bad news that they are consuming daily.
The Carolina Hurricanes have looked to counteract that on its social and digital media channels, aiming to not only be a source of entertainment but also to help them come together as a community.
When the NHL released its statement pausing the 2019-2020 season, clubs across the league put together statements reiterating what the league had already said: hockey would be on hiatus.
After seeing what was being posted on Twitter, Hurricanes Vice President of Marketing and Brand Strategy Mike Forman felt the need to put out a statement that was honest and reflective of how the organization was feeling in real-time. He discussed this with Dan LaTorraca, the team’s senior director of marketing, as well as Matt Sutor and Emily Simanskis, the Hurricanes’ social media manager and intern, respectively, on what that would look like.
“We started discussing with our digital team: ‘let’s put out a statement that’s a little more us than kind of what everyone else is doing, and a little more personality to show that we’re people behind this account,’” Forman said. “I know we show it throughout the year, but we want it to show even during these times. That set the tone, I think, for everything we were going to plan here for the next few weeks, months, whatever it may be – that we’re not going away and we’re still going to be that human behind the social account.”
Days later, the Hurricanes followed with a 33-tweet thread to both the NHL and its current and future teams on what the Hurricanes appreciated most about them. The responses ranged from tweeting at the Detroit Red Wings, “your arena is beautiful and always fun to play in,” to telling the Tampa Bay Lightning that, “your fans are electric and we still love being weather buddies.”
Posted on March 18, numerous clubs have been quote tweeting and DMing the Hurricanes positive words about the thread, Forman said. While the initial tweet generated more than 1,300 retweets and 5,900 likes, basing content success on metrics like interaction rates, engagement rates, and monetization potential is irrelevant right now, he added.
“We want to engage, and we want to interact, but this is not a time to set benchmarks in terms of numbers you’re trying to hit,” Forman said. “Everything’s blown up in the world that interaction rates and engagement rates aren’t that important right now. It’s just a matter of trying to make someone smile for a little bit.”
Being different in what they post on social media has become the norm for the Hurricanes. For World’s Kindness Day on November 13, 2019, the team created another extensive tweet thread to show their admiration for the league and its competitors.
Tweets like, “thank you for being our best friend” for the Colorado Avalanche and, “we’re LUCKY to have you in the league. Congrats on all your success” for the Vegas Golden Knights were just some of the ways that the Hurricanes honored their colleagues.
“We got a lot of positive feedback both from our fans and other clubs and the league on just taking the time to make a nice comment about each club,” Forman said. “Obviously showing that we did a little research on each club too, that they weren’t generic statements. That was one of the first ideas that Matt brought to the table here is that the hockey world – and just the world in general – could use kindness during these times to get through some of these trying times.”
It was less than two weeks ago that Forman and his team had begun preparations for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We were just about to start reaching out to the city of Raleigh, the city of Durham and some of our other neighbors in terms of adding some brand elements throughout the city for the playoffs like we did last season,” Forman said. “I mean, we were within hours of actually reaching out to some of those partners of ours. And then all of this happened, and all of a sudden, you blow up all of your plans, and you’re creating a brand new game plan on the spot.”
Now, as Forman and his team work from home with no exact date on when the NHL will return, they have already begun launching new projects that were always on the back-burner due to their busy schedules.
On March 19, the Hurricanes hosted their first NHL 20 simulated game, attracting more than 36,500 total viewers and 22,000 unique visitors – which is more than PNC Arena’s full capacity of 19,972. They were primarily inspired to pursue simulating a game through esports by the Phoenix Suns, which days prior drew 126,000 and 221,000 unique visitors and views, respectively, in their first Twitch simulation on NBA 2K.
Given the Hurricanes’ early success with their esports launch, Forman says that the plan is to play out the remainder of the regular season with simulations before they determine what to do for the playoffs.
The Hurricanes are also working with a company to try and host NHL 20 online esports tournaments in the near future, Forman said, once things resume to normality.
On social media, Forman and the Hurricanes have already mapped out a six-to-seven-week content strategy that extends through April. There is no end date in mind, which has made him worried about if and when the team will be able to return to some semblance of normalcy.
While that does unsettle him, it has not stopped the Hurricanes from trying to portray normalcy to their social media followers. Traditions like Wallpaper Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, and Follow Friday are little things that the team will be doing to keep fans as comfortable and at ease as possible, Forman said.
After the initial shock of the season suspension, Forman is happy that the Hurricanes are back on social media for their fanbase.
“We’re hoping to, really soon, just get people to have things to look forward to and to have things that they know are coming,” Forman said. “We’re in the sports and entertainment business. Whether we’re in the office or not, whether games are being played or not, we’re here to entertain and help our fans get through this.”