Nimble ‘Bunch of Jerks’ Capitalize on the Power of Digital Age Marketing

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Image via BreakingT

A strong weekend performance by the Carolina Hurricanes allowed them to be a “bunch of jerks.”

Following a 3-1 win on Friday against the Edmonton Oilers, the team celebrated with their fans in the now traditional “Storm Surge” victory celebration, among others. Playing some of the best hockey in the NHL since New Year’s Eve, the team had reason to playfully celebrate.

Hockey analyst Don Cherry, however, chastised the franchise for their actions on Saturday during “Hockey Night in Canada,” calling them “a bunch of jerks.”

Less than 24 hours later, the Hurricanes had a t-shirt go viral, showing the opportunity of capitalizing on moments in sports in the social media age.

Despite having a game to play on Saturday night, social comments started coming in an hour or two before the game and it was in the marketing department’s minds, said Mike Forman, the vice president of marketing and brand strategy for the Hurricanes.

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Following another home win Saturday, the Hurricanes’ marketing team sat down to talk over its options. The social team had changed its bios earlier in the night and had fun with the moment, but then it was time to talk about merchandise, which received quick buy-in from upper management and ownership.

“They saw it coming and gave us creative freedom,” Forman said, adding the importance of flexible, real-time marketing strategies. “It’s one of those traits that gets overlooked. You can have a great marketing plan, but if you can’t adapt on the fly and be proactive with big moments, you’ll lose out on the brand equity you’re trying to build.”

At about midnight, the team fired off an email to BreakingT President Jamie Mottram. BreakingT specializes in quick turnarounds of breaking sports moments and had previously helped the Hurricanes with a shirt for the “Storm Surge.”

“We got an email Saturday night flagging the Don Cherry moment and asking if we could act quickly to capture the moment,” Mottram said. “That’s what we do; we see a trend or moment happening in sports and we act quickly to get products to markets that fans will get excited about.”

BreakingT worked with four teams across professional leagues last year; this year the company has done work with 25 teams in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, and NHL. “Bunch of Jerks” shirts are an extreme case of speedy turnarounds, but it’s not the quickest BreakingT has operated. In 2017 they made a Washington Nationals shirt calling outfielder Michael A. Taylor “Michael A. Tater” following a broadcaster’s joke in the MLB Playoffs.

The viral capability of merchandise surrounding sports moments is a new phenomenon, and had Cherry made the “bunch of jerks” comment a decade ago, Mottram isn’t sure the business model would work.

“The comments would have a taken a while to make the rounds,” he said. “Now, it just happens immediately and everyone knows about them and the ‘Canes tapped into that and gave the fans something want.

“It’s about seeing what’s trending or exciting, positive or negative sentiment and capturing that moment and excitement with high-quality merchandise.”

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Now, however, the quick turnaround was key, Forman said, when they could have easily waited until Monday morning to chat over options. By noon on Sunday, BreakingT had presented its designs. Then, the Hurricanes had selected their choice by the afternoon and posted on social and made the shirts available on their online store. Using a local printer, t-shirts will be available at the team’s home game Tuesday.

“That would have been easy, but we would have missed momentum if we waited even 24 hours,” Forman said, still surprised even at its quick success. “We weren’t trying to waste time.”

Had the team not been at home or played well all weekend, Forman isn’t sure if the t-shirt would have happened or had the response it has — within 15 hours, more than 1,000 units have been sold across 41 states, six Canadian provinces and in several European countries.

“It’s hard not to get caught up in the ebbs and flows with team success,” Forman said. “The timing on our end was perfect. We had fun with it on social and had a good pulse on our fanbase and a strong feeling that it was something that could take off.”