Vegas Golden Knights CMO Brian Killingsworth: 5 Successful Marketing Tips

From The Rink To The Stage

When Las Vegas announced the city would host its first-ever professional sports team, the Vegas Golden Knights, critics jumped on the opportunity to bash the idea of having a hockey team in the desert.

Brian Killingsworth, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Vegas Golden Knights, and the leadership team worked tirelessly to implement a bold marketing strategy that has made the new franchise one of the most popular teams in the National Hockey League after just one season. The Golden Knights now have the youngest fan base in the NHL, the highest amount of jerseys sold in the league, and are in the top five for overall gate revenue.

“We were the most successful expansion franchise in the history of professional sports,” said Killingsworth on stage during his keynote at XChange 2019 in Las Vegas this week.

Here are five marketing tactics he said solution providers can adopt to drive brand recognition and a loyal customer base.

Cementing A Brand: ‘Vegas Born’

The Vegas Golden Knights had to create a campaign and the face of a franchise without even knowing which hockey players were going to be on the team. The organization needed to build a campaign from scratch that would win over 2.2 million local residents.

“We can’t just have a disposable campaign that we throw away every year—it’s cheeky, it doesn’t last or resonate. For us, it was the fact that we’re proud to represent the first major professional sports franchise in Vegas,” said Killingsworth. “We pushed ‘Vegas Born’ and it started resonating. … Kids would come to the game and say, ‘I’m proud to be Vegas Born too.’ We took it one step further and every kid born in Summerlin Hospital [Medical Center] gets a ‘Vegas Born’ onesie. So from day one of their existence, they’re going to be a Vegas Golden Knights fan. That’s taking it one step forward, [they’re] Vegas Born, like the franchise.”

Getting The Youth On Board

Killingsworth said at the heart of generating new and long-term fans, or customers, is getting the local kids into the game. If you can introduce kids to hockey, they’re going to become fans for life, he said.

“For us it’s, ‘How do we reach kids before the age of 8?’ Through the school system is the No. 1 way. So we partnered with Clark Country Schools. This is an incredible program that I’m extremely proud of. We’ll reach over 200,000 kids through this program in elementary schools,” said Killingsworth. “So every elementary school in Clark Country, we taught the PE teachers how to play street hockey. So we give them equipment so it becomes part of the curriculum.”

The Knights also wanted to get more kids to learn to skate so it created its “Learn To Skate” program. “We’re proud that in one year, we went from zero to almost 3,000 kids in our “Learn To Skate” program, which really helps us fast-forward the growth of hockey in this area, so much that we have to have another facility that we’re looking at opening,” said Killingsworth.

Dustin Vaughn, president of Network Performance, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based solution provider, said the tactic is similar to the technology industry in that solution providers are looking to capture younger employees.

“That’s the market we’re all looking for. How do you get the young groups and keep them in? That’s our biggest issue now,” said Vaughn. “The jersey on the children that the Vegas Knights did was a smart idea. Dropping that Vegas Born to those kids, it’s perfect. … I’m great at talking to all the people older than me or my age, but now I’m having to deal with people who are going to be taking over these businesses. So I have to deal with the younger generation, which to me is a bit more challenging. I’m not that old, but I’m not in that millennial thought process. … So we’re looking at how do you brand to get them on board.”

Community Is Everything

“At the heart of what we do is community. I know that it is critical to the success this franchise had. We made that a priority from day one,” said Killingsworth. “We want to be a community pillar from the start.”

The Knights created the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation that has pillars within a slew of local businesses and organizations including health and wellness, education, military and animal advocacy groups as well as working with the Make-A-Wish-Foundation and Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness. “Thinking differently, I think that is key,” said Killingsworth.

From a solution provider perspective, Network Performance’s Vaughn said getting Albuquerque locals on board is key.

“If you bring in your locals, you make yourself a much more popular proposition point for them—that trusted adviser plan. It’s really building that trust level with your community and being able to pull things out of it,” said Vaughn. “When you build a trust level in the community, it makes it much easier for people to open those discussion points and have a real, honest discussion when you’re talking about what they need to do. I agree 100 percent with the model the Vegas Knights used.”

Make Customers Feel Part Of The Team

To drive ticket sales in its first season, the Vegas Golden Knights did a ticket drive campaign where almost 16,500 people put down a deposit, which the company converted into 14,000 full-season ticket members in a matter of months.

“We said, ‘How could we forever cement that initial season ticket base with our team?’ Well, let’s actually put their names in the ice. So the entire season, their names were imbedded in the ice for our inaugural season, which is a pretty unique way of saying, ‘Hey, you’re always with this team and community, and you’re forged as one,” said Killingsworth. “We took it one step further for the [season ticket] renewal kits. We sent them a little vial of water that was actually the [stadium’s] ice, and we brought it full circle and we said, ‘Thank you for being a loyal member of our franchise here.’”

Run Like A Startup

Killingsworth said there is nothing more exhilarating than being part of a startup because “it’s all on you.”

“For us, we said, ‘What could we do that no other team has done before?’ And we think about that on a daily basis,” he said. “How do you look at the landscape of your competitors and look at how you’ve done things in the past and don’t just say, ‘That’s how we’ve done it every year.’ Shake it up, do things differently. No idea is too crazy, but definitely be bold in your thinking.”

Killingsworth said he plans to have the Knights continue to run and innovate as a startup. “For us, we can’t lose that, because if you lose that and you become that traditional franchise where you just recycle everything year after year, you’ll lose that edge. So for us, it’s continuing to think that we’re a startup and innovate as a startup.”