For the Minnesota Wild, it’s not just about building a fan base. It’s about building a community.
Hockey season is upon us, which means that all across Minnesota, fans are collecting water from their local lakes and ponds to contribute to the ice surface at Xcel Energy Center, where the Minnesota Wild play. It’s a game-day tradition that has inspired more than 10,000 fans to participate in the Wild community beyond cheers and chants.
We talked with Tom Lord, ICF Next Group Creative Director, about what makes ‘Our Ice’ a winning tradition for the Minnesota Wild.
Q. Can you walk us through the process that brought the team to this idea?
A. Minnesota Wild wanted to engage a broader group of fans, dominate the local sports conversation at a time when most people are paying attention to football and baseball, and create demand for early-season tickets. We started by talking to current fans through focus groups to determine what made them fans of the Minnesota Wild. Through those conversations, we learned that wins and losses actually had little to do with it – community and connection were the biggest drivers of fandom. That, and “a sense they are part of something bigger than themselves.” To strengthen that sense of community, we had to provide a shared experience in which fans could participate.
It was during a late-night brainstorm that one of our teammates suggested we bring Wild players to people’s frozen ponds. When we flipped that idea around, the ‘Our Ice’ tradition was born. Now, people bring their frozen ponds to the team – creating an ice surface from a collection of everyone’s water.
Q. Why did ‘Our Ice’ work? What was the biggest factor that drove its success?
A. There were three key factors to our success with “Our Ice”: it was authentic, it was emotional, and it was simple. In the ‘land of 10,000 lakes,’ (and therefore, 10,000 frozen ponds for hockey), water and ice are part of the culture. People were proud and passionate to share their stories and memories of what their local water and ice means to them. But keeping it simple was crucial. We wanted to make it easy for fans to bring their water and know that making the ice surface out of it wasn’t a gimmick. So, when people brought their water, we had them pour it through a filter and right into the ice resurfacer.
Q. What were some of the emotional elements of the Our Ice movement?
A. Bodies of water in Minnesota have an emotional connection for Minnesotans. People brought water from lakes where they taught their kids to swim, or from backyard rinks and ponds where they learned to skate. A fire department brought water from their fire hoses. All across the state, people collected their water – and their stories – to share with the broader community.
Q. What was it like working on this project?
A. ‘Our Ice’ became more than a rallying cry. We created a way for everyone to be part of the team. It was inspiring to be part of an authentic, community-building idea that has brought real meaning and value to the fans who love Minnesota hockey. And it wasn’t just the ICF Next team and Wild fans. Nearly all of the starting players – and even some of their kids -- shared their water, too.
At the very start, it was nerve-racking wondering if people would actually participate in the first “Flood the Rink” event. But as the line started wrapping around the building, this became a special feeling for all of us.
Q. What’s your advice to anyone looking to build a similar campaign or engage their audiences in a new tradition?
A. You have to take the time to get to know the people you’re looking to connect with and do your research. As marketers, we can’t just assume we know what makes people tick and then talk to them through billboards or traditional advertisements. To establish or maintain cultural relevance and inspire participation among your audiences, you have to be using data, research, and insights to understand people’s habits, views, and behaviors. With that knowledge, you can find your own way of connecting with your audience through shared bonds.