Canes roll out the red carpet for fans in season of firsts

Raleigh, N.C. — There was a time when going to a sporting event meant that the game was the primary focus. The biggest concern was how good your view was going to be. If the team won, you got good value. If it lost, you didn’t. But things evolve, and teams have learned to create value and enhance fan service in other ways. From parking to concessions to audio and visual effects to player meet-and-greets, it’s all about creating an experience and a valuable experience at that.

“When we discuss it and when (Carolina Hurricanes owner) Tom (Dundon) discusses fan experience, I think it starts right from the time someone gets on the property,” says the Hurricanes Vice President of Marketing and Brand Strategy Mike Forman.

Fans want to leave knowing their time and money was well spent. The Carolina Hurricanes are not immune to this, and as they embark on the 2018-2019 season, they’ll look to get better on and off the ice in an effort to create a destination atmosphere for Canes fans. Here are some of the ways the team will look to make your experience all that and a bag of pucks:

First and foremost, the Canes have to ice an exciting team that pushes for playoff spots and eventually championships. In short, it has to win. According to Forman, winning is “the number one factor” in creating a positive fan experience.

It was a busy offseason for the Canes, who traded two former top five picks in Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm for Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland. They lost two franchise stalwarts in Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner and were fortunate to get the second pick in the draft which yielded the young Russian phenom, Andrei Svechnikov. Franchise favorite Rod Brind’Amour took over the reigns as the head coach, and the Hurricanes look to be playing a faster, more aggressive, more physical brand of hockey. That, in and of itself, is more entertaining but unless it translates to wins the experience will remain underwhelming.

There have been plenty of talks surrounding enhancements to PNC Arena and the surrounding area. Yes, there are seats in the arena. Yes, there is a sheet of ice, and yes, two teams show up to play hockey on game nights. That’s not enough anymore.

When you look at modern arenas you see restaurants and bars in and around the building, rink-long televisions and upgraded scoreboards. The new majority owner tried to push for a new scoreboard last season to no immediate avail, but there will be new 3D on-ice projection graphics, effects and theatrical lighting at some point during the season. Also, the team is looking to work out a new lease with the Centennial Authority, the group that owns and operates the arena, which could help expedite other stadium enhancements like a rooftop restaurant.

The Hartford Whalers are a part of the franchise’s DNA ,and Dundon has been adamant about embracing that part of the team’s history, something Peter Karmanos was never willing to do. In the beginning Karmanos was probably right to try to establish the Hurricanes brand but it has been long enough. The fans have been clamoring for the team to don the classic green, black and white jerseys. Throwbacks are in and, let’s be honest, the team will enjoy it at the cash register as well.

There was some apparel sold in “The Eye” last year and the Canes went as far as playing the Whalers theme song “Brass Bonanza” before crucial moments in the third period towards the end of last season. This year, the team on two occasions, once at home against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 23 and then again in Boston on March 5. Among other theme nights are college colors nights for nine different area schools that include special ticket offers and beanies and a Star Wars night.

You can show up to the game, but if you don’t have a ticket nobody’s going to let you in the building. Dundon introduced a few new ticket initiatives last season like ticket swaps for lower bowl seats and other ways to customize a ticket package. This year there are enhanced subscription models, and there are 11- and 22-game flex plans available where you can can choose every game you want.

Attending a sporting event in 2018 isn’t just a game. It’s also a culinary experience as teams vie for the most sophisticated, most outrageous and most regional food and beverage. Our taste buds have evolved. Craft beers and pulled pork nachos have replaced domestic lights and tortilla chips with Cheese Whiz. You can still get the traditional stadium/ballpark fare, but folks don’t want to spend a paycheck on that. Not only that, we don’t want to wait very long for it.

2018 Hurricanes Homegrown Series

Saturday, Oct. 20, vs Colorado

Saturday, Nov. 17, vs Columbus

Thursday, Dec. 20, vs Detroit

Friday, Jan. 11, vs Buffalo

Friday, Feb. 15, vs Edomonton

Saturday, March 23, vs Minnesota

Keep in mind, a lot of these things require harmony between the team and the PNC Arena staff, and there are certain promotional nights like the Homegrown Series, $5 beer nights and half-off soda and water nights where you‘ll find exceptional value.

The Hurricanes will have six Home Grown nights this season featuring the best the area has to offer in T-shirts, food, beer, art and music. That said, Dundon and team President Don Waddell don’t seem to be overly concerned about long lines and prices because food and drink doesn’t make a big enough dent on the bottom line.

The Hurricanes have a lot to offer in the way of the fan experience, but it’s not a chicken or egg situation. Winning on the ice and having young, bright stars to follow will always be the catalyst to getting fans in the door. Once you get there, you can find good beer and food and there will be enhancements to the arena in the future. Dundon has ramped up access to players with the fan tunnel and post-game photo opportunities on the ice. Also, the rink will be open for post-game skating on select nights as well. So, here’s to a successful season. And get there early. The early bird parking lot is only $10.