BIRD’S-EYE VIEW: Team Effort
Blog #16 – June 26, 2020
by John Peterson
There is no “I” in “team”.
But, in this case, “ticket department” starts with a “T” and “marketing department” starts with an “M”.
“A” stands for “awards”, and “E” stands for “everyone”.
The best part about winning team awards is celebrating as a team. The Kalamazoo Wings staff did just that Wednesday night as the team won two major front office awards during the ECHL’s virtual awards show, presented live on Facebook for the first time.
In a season shortened abruptly 11 games too soon, one in which the team on the ice suffered its fair share injuries and misfortune, the team off the ice did its part to ensure an increase in average attendance for the fifth consecutive season.
This is what makes Kalamazoo great. From the top down, this is a family. Everything we do is a team effort, and each individual is carefully selected to excel in their respective role so that the team stands out above the rest.
Here’s the kicker. Without the fans, none of it would be possible. These two awards belong to the K-Wings fans just as much as they belong to those of us in the front office.
So here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the final bow tied to wrap up the 2019-20 season.
THE LEAD UP
There’s a reason athletes give credit to their teammates when winning the MVP award. Actors and actresses who win Oscars often praise their behind-the-scenes crew. Singers who take home Grammy awards usually thank their backup singers and producers.
It’s because every individual accolade is achieved through the contributions of the rest of the team. I’d be willing to bet Wayne Gretzky relished each Stanley Cup Championship more than his Hart Memorial Trophies. Michael Jordan cherished his six titles above his MVP honors.
When we found out we’d been nominated for seven front office awards a few weeks ago, we were thrilled. It was further proof during these uncertain times that we did many things right in 2019-20 and we’re continuing to trend in the right direction.
The K-Wings were recognized in categories such as Best Theme Night, for that memorable Guinness World Record lightsaber battle on Star Wars Night. We were finalists in the Most Creative Ticket Package category, for the VIP Meet and Greet featuring Leslie David Baker, the actor who played Stanley in the hit show “The Office”. The “Rising Star” Award of Excellence was highly coveted as one of the top team awards, which we took great pride in being named one of the five finalists.
What made the awards presentation unique is a few of us knew the results a little bit earlier than everyone else. Kalamazoo’s production team was tasked with putting the awards show together, which was a process that began weeks ago. Once the league’s awards committee made their final decisions, the results were shared with Tim Hindbaugh, who produced the entire show from scratch.
I also knew the winners fairly early in the process, as I wrote the script and did the voiceover you probably heard if you watched the show live on the league’s Facebook. The fun part for Tim and I was filming the show at Toni Lentini-Daniels’ house. The K-Wings’ Governor and Business Operations Director hosted the awards show and had no idea who won each award until she opened the envelopes during filming. Her raw reactions to each award made the presentation that much more authentic.
After a few edits, Tim sent the show off to the league for Wednesday’s live event. This was the first time the front office awards have been made public for the fans to watch along with the 26 ECHL teams. Usually the award show takes place in person in Las Vegas during the ECHL Summer Meetings, which were canceled this year for obvious reasons.
The rest of the K-Wings staff, left in the dark up to this point, was invited to Toni’s house for a live viewing party featuring snacks and beverages.
POP THE CHAMPAGNE
Let’s flash back for a second to 370 days earlier.
It was the 2019 ECHL Summer Meetings in Las Vegas and I just finished interviewing with the K-Wings management, before meeting the rest of the staff. This was a team exercise to make sure I’d fit in with the group. I knew right then, this was going to be my new hockey family.
I remember learning how Michael Kiel was a big NASCAR fan. Michael McFadden loved soccer. Jason Kane and Ben Ruhlman were big golfers. Derek Arnold enjoys a good camping trip. Tim was the creative guru I’d heard so much about from former broadcasters Joe Roberts and Issac Berky, and now I could put a face to a name.
You see, like this summer, Kalamazoo also produced last summer’s ECHL awards show presentation. Two days later, I stood up in shock when my name was called as the PR/Broadcaster of the Year. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t excited and proud of the accomplishment. But a better way to describe the feeling was humbling. I was a finalist for the award in 2018 and that was a tremendous honor, but I had no expectations beyond that.
The best part about the experience was sharing it with two teams. At the time, I was still a member of the Tulsa Oilers, but ironically enough, our table for the awards show was right next to Kalamazoo’s table, and the K-Wings staff seemed just as happy for me. That meant the world.
But winning an individual award and winning a team award are much different celebrations. The key to a strong team is working together, growing together and striving for team successes together. Jumping back to this week, that’s why we were so thrilled we were nominated for seven.
So we gathered at Toni’s house Wednesday afternoon to watch the awards show as a team and enjoy some snacks. This was the first time we’d all been together since March due to the working from home regulations, and it was awesome seeing everyone again in person instead of behind a computer screen.
The first award we were nominated for was Marketing Department of the Year. We’d never been a finalist in this category before this year, but I knew we had a legitimate shot to win due to a 26% growth in walk-up sales in 2019-20 and a strong surge in social media followers and engagement.
We erupted in cheers when the results were announced. Our first triumph.
Our creative group, which includes me, Tim, McFadden, Toni and Sarah Olszowy, the VP of Marketing for Greenleaf Hospitality Group, meet every week to go over our marketing strategy and different content ideas. Sarah’s team includes Allie Lochart, Hailey Kovach, Madison Karrick and Ellen Wedel, and they handle the marketing efforts for all of the GHG properties, which includes the K-Wings. Each of them are extremely talented at what they do.
As you can tell, the Marketing Department of the Year was a huge team effort and special to a lot of people who poured their heart and soul into the operation.
Obviously we’re biased, but we thought we had a real shot to win the Best Theme Night award for our Guinness World Record on Star Wars Night back in November. That result prompted the most moans and groans from the crowd, as many on our team thought that one was a lock. Kiel was especially bummed, as that theme was his idea and he put countless hours and days into the execution of the event to make sure we’d set the record.
Last summer, Kiel was a finalist for the Sales Rookie of the Year, something Kalamazoo accomplished back-to-back seasons, as Fletcher Meyers was nominated this year. That, in itself, is something they should be proud of.
Toni was voted by her peers as a finalist for Team Executive of the Year, which was voted on by the league’s Board of Governors Tuesday and not included in the virtual show. Ultimately, Idaho’s Eric Trapp won that award, which was well deserved. But I know I speak for our entire staff when I say Toni is an outstanding leader and does a terrific job unifying our group, instilling a family mindset and pushing us to achieve our goals.
Another category we had our eyes on was the Most Creative Ticket Package for our popular Office Night, featuring a celebrity meet and greet with Leslie David Baker, the actor who played Stanley on the hit TV show. We came up just short.
Then came our second big moment of the afternoon: the Ticket Department of the Year, for year-over-year growth. This time we had another reason to celebrate. Our second win of the day.
Each of our sales representatives bring a unique talent to the table. All of them do a great job engaging with our fans and catering to their needs.
Jason is the seasoned veteran, who has put together an impressive sales portfolio throughout the years. He’s been nominated for individual awards multiple times in his career. Kiel and Ben each excelled in selling season ticket packages, as well as group outings. Fletcher jumped right in this year and sold a bunch of partial plans. Derek, who focuses primarily on finding new corporate partnerships and developing relationships with business clients also played a role in our ticket growth accomplishment.
We can’t forget about Keli Ekola. She has her hands in every department and in many ways is the glue that keeps this crazy crew together.
Every single member of our team played a role in a memorable day capping off a wild season that ended too soon. So we popped a bottle of champagne out on the deck, Toni gave a toast and we all celebrated together.
SETTING THE BAR HIGH
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our final nomination of the show, the Team Award of Excellence “Rising Star” Award. While we didn’t win, that acknowledgement gave us something to shoot for in 2020-21.
The category takes into account growth in ticket sales, corporate partnerships, merchandise, food and beverage sales and attendance. Through 30 home games, our average attendance grew for the fifth straight season. This recognition is a direct reflection of our fan support here in Kalamazoo. Hockey is alive and well.
We’re more motivated than ever to keep K-Wings hockey trending upward in year 47, and we’re confident we can take home some more hardware next summer. Whether that means individual accolades, creative awards, ticket achievements or the Kelly Cup, we know we’ll celebrate it as a team. And our fans are very much a part of the team. So we’d like to say thank you.
Bird’s-Eye View is a Kalamazoo Wings blog, written by the team’s Director of Public Relations/Broadcaster John Peterson twice weekly. The thoughts, opinions and behind-the-scenes stories are that of the writer alone and not a reflection of the organization as a whole. Fans are welcome to submit questions and ideas for future blog posts to email@example.com. Enjoy!