When looking for topics to cover, it's not often that Sports Illustrated writers cast their eyes on Prescott Valley for even a mere mention. Ok, let's be honest. It's never occurred before. But that's exactly what happened in April when the Sundogs decided to send four men up into a scissor lift some 30 feet off the ground until 300 season tickets were sold.
"Vowing to do 'whatever it takes' to draw fans for the 2013--14 season, the owner, general manager, captain and marketing director of the Central Hockey League's Arizona Sundogs in Prescott Valley spent 144 hours on a five-by-eight-foot scissor-lift platform 25 feet above the ground until they reached their goal of 300 season tickets sold," reads the Sports Illustrated blurb.
The cost of a season ticket? Starting at a few hundred bucks for 33 games. The cost of a hot dog and beverage inside Tim's Toyota Center? About $6.50. The cost of getting Sports Illustrated to mention the Arizona Sundogs? Priceless.
Sports Illustrated wasn't the only media publication to mention the Sundogs regarding the five-day sojourn in the scissor lift. Some of the other media outlets to mention the Sundogs included:
At one point Ashley Stovall, the Sundogs Director of Media, sent out a press release that read in part, "ABC15 News, Fox10 News and AZTV all made the trip from Phoenix this afternoon to learn about the Sundogs ticket campaign. The support and interest from local media outlets was a welcomed and overwhelming feeling.... International media from Ontario, Canada and the BBC World News in the UK also reached out today after learning about the unusual and incredible strategy set forth by the Arizona Sundogs organization."
One anonymous donor from Canada purchased two season tickets and donated them to the local VA.
The story was even covered on BBC in Britain:
The Underlying Message
The real story, however, isn't just the local and international media coverage the stunt received. After all, the media world is very fast-paced; stories come and stories go. Today's story is tomorrow's memory.
But, the message sent and received by the local community, the fans and the team itself is what's even more important: "Whatever it takes - we are dedicated," as Brad Fain, member of the Sundogs ownership team and one of the lift inhabitants, stated. "...without fans, we don't have hockey, we don't have the team, we don't have anything. It all starts with the fans."
Thus the need to sell season tickets and fill the stands with fans. The fans provide more than simply a cash flow. They provide the energy, the drive, the dedication to push forward, on and off the ice.
"When you're up there two days," Lew Rees, Director of Public Relations and Marketing said, "You're thinking, 'Am I a lunatic? Is it really working? Is it worth it?'... You don't really know two days out if it's worth it, because it's just starting to set in with people and their emotions and their attachment to see if you really mean what you're doing, so you have to stay with it... What really kept us going is that people would come in and do a story or something like that. Had we not had the pushes of, 'You know, we just sold ten, we sold 15 over here...' That's what kept us longer. I will tell you, it was the people that kept us up. It wasn't us, we would just as soon be down. It was the community that kept up there til Friday. I would have never in my wildest dreams have expected us to be up there until Friday."
"It became a culture for five days," Rees said. "We've had a lot of well-wishers since then. Even today, people call me."
Rees became reflective as he explained, "I was so happy to see four of us up there. I think a gentleman of Brad Fain's stature made a big, big difference. When Brad Fain stepped up and said he's going to be up there, this means something. When Captain Morgan, who's been in the NHL, says, 'I'm a hockey player, I really don't need to do this,' but he did it. And then the General Manager, Chris Presson, who works night and day, feverishly to build a team, he said he would do it. And of course, I will always do it, because I don't know any better!"
"But, when you've got four - and you saw the size of that thing - four fairly healthy gentlemen up in a lift, I think that shows something. I think that shows character and perseverence, and dedication and commitment. Those were the kind of things we wanted to show."
"We all said it, and we mean it. It's about the community," Rees said.
"I guarantee you," Rees concluded, after admitting that by the time he got in the car to go home, he was kind of sad. "It will always be a big part of my life."
A Commitment Beyond Self
General Manager Chris Presson doesn't seem to like talking about it much, but the truth is, he doesn't like heights. So, agreeing to climb into a lift 30 feet in the air was a unique challenge for him. "I don't like heights at all," Presson admitted. "I never fully got used to it. It was definitely a little trying. Even though for most people it wasn't that high, I don't like being ten feet off the ground. Physically, you lock up. Mentally, it's almost like you can't cope."
But, he did it anyway? "Yes, I did it anyway. We wanted to show our commitment to the community and the team, and if that meant overcoming a fear, so be it."
What message does that send? "I think it says to the team and to the community, that we as the management and ownership team are committed. We're committed to the community," Presson answered. "We actually kind of mimicked the commitment our players showed, really. Specifically about the last 45 days of the season. I told them after the season was over, it's the hardest I've seen a team play consistently in the 20 years I've been in this league, and I was really proud of them. I think that helped us, and our commitment up there, when we got tired. But I think to the team, to the ownership and to the community, it was about how committed we were to letting the people know that we'll do whatever it takes to make sure we'll have a team long term."
How have the players responded? Presson replied, "I've heard from several of them [team players] - very surprised that we did it - basically comments like, 'You guys are crazy!''Great job!' I've had one particular player tell me three or four times, that he still can't believe it and how appreciative he is of it. Our athletic trainer has told me five times in a very sincere way, 'Congratulations.' Because he seems to understand the undertaking it was... Yeah, they all appreciate it, they all understand it, and I think that's why things could be headed the right direction, because everybody seems to get it."
Stepping Up - Whatever It Takes
Jason 'Captain' Morgan, who has played on all levels of hockey teams, said with a grin, "It's my 18th year coming up next year, and it's the first time I've ever been part of a ticket campaign of any kind. It's pretty crazy."
When asked if he were glad he did it, Morgan replied without hesitation. "Oh yeah, sure. I don't know what the final count was up there, but 302 season tickets, that's pretty amazing for a five day event."
Morgan said that he felt a closer relationship with the community after the lift experience. "Definitely. Just seeing everyone stop by, and come hang out, and kids were visiting Burnie, and people yelling up and sayin', 'How you guys doing?' and delivering food. It was a full community event. It was fun to be a part of."
Despite his years playing hockey, Morgan said he's never been covered by Sports Illustrated before, and the world-wide media coverage was a surprise. "I don't think you could have predicted any of it. We didn't predict that it would be successful, we didn't predict that we would go five days... I don't think you can predict any of it when you're doing a stunt like that."
Kevin Baker, a forward on the Sundogs team, was part of the ground crew, cheering them on. He says that an event like this also sends a message to players that might want to consider playing for the Sundogs. "Getting our support to get community support to come to the games and watch, that's our job and that's why we love to play the game. Having a packed arena makes the game so much more exciting and fun to play. You want to win, you want to be there. And when you have that exposure, expecially what they did, it blew up. Guys that are thinking of coming, don't even know that, they've only heard about it. It was a big thing for hockey, for the sport of hockey, I think."
"We've got first class owners."
Morgan added, "I think that when you see the personnel that were up there, it shows anybody that got wind of it, or read about it, or heard about it, they understand the commitment is from the whole organization, from top to bottom. You had the owner, the management, the PR, the player. So, the whole organization was involved, and I think that when people see that... Some teams, when you look at the ownership, that's just their hobby, they don't really care. But I think the owners here really care, and the community really cares now and they supported that event, and everybody wants it to be successful."
Both players agreed that it would have sent a different message if it had been four players instead of everyone from the top down. "I think it had a greater magnitude having everyone from the organization involved," Morgan said. "The idea was brought up before I started coming to [management] meetings, I didn't come to the meetings until after the season was over. That's why I decided to join [on the lift], because you need every aspect from the owner to the player."
"Some ownership groups... They try to nickel and dime everything. They're greedy. It's all about making money." Morgan continued. "But, we've got first class owners. They want the team to do well, and they're willing to do whatever it takes for the team to do well. I think he [Brad Fain] wants it to do well. I think that's more important for him and the community than just to make money."
"So, I think, as a whole, all the owners are committed to doing well, and to doing whatever it takes for us to do that."