The way Jeff Hunt sees it, running a junior hockey franchise can be similar to cleaning carpets.
Mr. Hunt – who is now president of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which led the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park and owns the Ottawa RedBlacks, Ottawa Fury and 67's – previously ran a successful carpet cleaning business, Canway, which was named to the PROFIT 100 list seven times.
After selling Canway in the late ’90s, Mr. Hunt purchased the Ottawa 67’s in 1998 and looked to reinvigorate the franchise at a time when the Ottawa Senators were eating into the junior franchise’s business.
One of Mr. Hunt’s first areas of focus was marketing, where he drew upon what had worked for him at Canway.
“It’s not that different,” Mr. Hunt said. “Selling a consumer product is selling a consumer product. We had the same target – families – so we were talking to the same (demographic).”
Mr. Hunt recently shared his experiences over lunch with a select group of Ottawa business executives following a taping of The Inside Track. The fast-paced web series, produced in partnership with Ottawa recruiting firm Stevenson & White, combines the entertaining aspects of a talk show while uncovering exclusive business insights from local industry leaders.
Joining Mr. Hunt were a handful of Ottawa-based business executives. They included:
- Ernie Cecchetto, president of Roof Maintenance Solutions;
- Iman Faris, chief financial officer of Surgenor Ottawa;
- AJ Plant, regional owner of Exit Realty;
- Allan Ghosn, managing partner of Grade A;
- Dean Trudeau, president of OPES Wealth Management; and
- Matt Stevenson, partner at Stevenson & White.
Mr. Hunt said that by talking to Ottawa residents in the late 1990s, he learned that large numbers of people said they loved the Ottawa 67’s. Unfortunately for the team, it never occurred to many of those same residents to actually attend a game.
So Mr. Hunt dramatically increased the franchise’s marketing budget from $24,000 when he bought the team to $600,000 in his first season. He also bought a Hummer and covered it in team graphics to further raise the team’s profile.
He said he had a simple goal.
“Everybody in Ottawa will know that the Ottawa 67s are playing on a Friday night,” Mr Hunt recounted. “It doesn’t mean they would go to every game, but they know it’s an option.”
He knew there was a large market among hockey-loving families who wouldn’t pay NHL prices to see the Senators more than a couple of times a year.
So Mr. Hunt worked on making the Ottawa 67’s more appealing to youngsters, starting with a critical review of the team’s logo.
He showed it to kids and asked, “If I give you a free shirt or hat with that logo, would you wear it to school?”
After hearing “no way” enough times, he knew he had to change it. He wanted something that would rival the aggressive logo of the San Jose Sharks. The Ottawa 67’s soon adopted a logo featuring an angry hockey puck with muscular arms bursting through a circle.
“We tried to have a fresh, energetic message,” Mr. Hunt said.
It quickly paid off. The team went from an average of less than 2,500 spectators in 1997-98 to more than 9,000 four years later and regularly led the league in attendance.