July 18, 2008
When you're a director of media relations for an NHL team, as Mike Sundheim is for the Carolina Hurricanes, any survey about the popularity of hockey in the franchise's city or state is going to get your attention. And Sundheim knew exactly what I was calling about this afternoon.
"You mean the survey in North Carolina about how nobody knows we are here?"
Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based firm that works for a number of politicians and organizations, published a survey yesterday on "North Carolina sports" that had some rather unpleasant results (.pdf) for the Hurricanes, two years removed from a Stanley Cup championship:
• "If offered tickets to any of the following sporting events, which would you be most likely to attend?" Only 10 percent of the 500 respondents chose the Hurricanes.
• "Did you know that North Carolina has a professional ice hockey team, the Carolina Hurricanes?" While 82 percent answered "yes," that meant 18 percent of respondents were unaware the Hurricanes played in their state after 11 years.
• Perhaps even more disturbing, six percent of respondents in the 919 area code, where the team's arena is located, said they did not know the Hurricanes existed. Which Lord Stanley's Blog finds a little weird.
"It's probably the same six percent who couldn't name the Vice President of the United States if you did a survey asking them what his name is," said Sundheim, and he's being kind: It's actually 31 percent of Americans who don't know the name of their Veep.
Is the survey fair? Are the Hurricanes in trouble? We asked Sundheim for the team's take on this rather sensational, and potentially embarrassing, polling data.
First, on the survey: Public Policy Polling is a respected firm that uses an automated calling system to administer its polls. This particular survey was created by summer fellow Curtis Labban, with "summer fellow" being a fancy term for "intern."
According to PPP, this poll was his summer project. Labban is from the University of North Carolina and, before hockey fans shoot the messenger over these results, appears to be a bit of a puckhead.
He blogged about his findings for PPP:
The Carolina Hurricanes still get little respect from North Carolinians. No, hockey has not caught on in the South, and no, the Hurricanes don't do a great job of marketing the team across the state, but due to the success that the team has had in the past 10 years (2 Stanley Cup Finals appearances, with 1 Championship) one might think that people would start watching. The main reason is the lack of ability to even watch NHL games, since ESPN pulled out before the lockout, but I still find it surprising that 18% of the state didn't even know that they had a professional hockey team.
Sundheim somewhat agreed with the notion that there are parts of the state where people may be unaware of the Hurricanes; mainly because it's a big-ass state. "There are people in North Carolina that are five or six hours from here, in the mountains," he said.
The Hurricanes aren't marketing to them, necessarily. But for the fans they have been attempting to reach, Sundheim is pleased with the results.
"We feel happy with our imprint in the Triangle. You can't drive five miles without seeing a Hurricanes sticker or a Hurricanes flag," he said. "I guess those six percent [in the 919 area code] don't know what that symbol is."
So how are the Hurricanes doing? Carolina drew an average of 16,633 fans per home game (an 88.8 percent capacity) in 2007-08; down from the previous post-Stanley Cup season (17,386, 92.8). But attendance has been strong since the team bottomed out with a 12,171 average in 2004.
As for as impact, look at this way: Sundheim said that the News & Observer dedicated "basically the entire front page" of the sports section and another page inside to dissecting the team's 2008-09 schedule this week. Slow sports summer, granted, but a rather impressive amount of attention for a hockey team.
Naturally, the Hurricanes are going to try and downplay survey results like these. But it's just another battle in their constant fight against the impression that hockey hasn't taken hold in Carolina -- even during their Stanley Cup winning season.
"It's extremely frustrating," said Sundheim. "I remember in the Stanley Cup finals, a guy for ESPN that was based here in Durham basically ripped us and said nobody cares about us. Well, that guy must have literally not left his house during the two months of the playoffs that year to say that nobody here cares."
In the end, it's just one survey; but the fight for respect for hockey teams in non-traditional markets continues.
Hey, there's always a silver lining: The survey showed that more women (4 percent) than men (3 percent) are most likely to watch hockey before any other sport, and that more women (83) than men (81) knew the Hurricanes existed. Hockey 'n Heels, indeed.
Any political scientists out there want to take a crack as to why more Republicans (86 percent) than Democrats (81 percent) knew North Carolina had a hockey team?