Milwaukee ranks #30 in population among U.S. cities, yet is home to four professional sports teams – the Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Brewers, Green Bay Packers (Green Bay is not a TV-metered market) and Milwaukee Wave arena soccer. That’s a lot of pro sports in a city with a population of almost 1.6 million. But there’s also a fifth team, the Milwaukee Admirals, a professional hockey team for the American Hockey League and an NHL farm team for the Nashville Predators. On this episode, Milwaukee Admirals President tells us how the team competes in a medium-sized market with so many pro teams.
Jon Greenberg has been president of the Milwaukee Admirals for 14 years. He previously worked for the Milwaukee Brewers for 22 years, starting as a bat boy and working his way up to media relations director. Milwaukee Admirals Owner Harris Turer offered Greenberg the role of president and a blank canvas to build the organization and lead the marketing, PR and business efforts.
As a member of the American Hockey League (AHL), the Admirals are the equivalent of Triple-A baseball team. They are the farm team for the NHL’s Nashville Predators. When the Predators need a player for any reason, a player from the Admirals is moved up to the NHL. All 31 NHL teams have an AHL farm team, and very soon, Seattle will be added to the roster.
Greenberg believes the reason the Admirals can survive in a city full of professional teams is because Wisconsin loves sports, and every sports team has found a place and fan base within the Milwaukee community. The Admirals also keep their ticket prices low and family affordable and make the experience at a game undeniably entertaining.
Three years ago, the Admirals decided to make the Panther Arena it’s new home. The 9500-seat house is a great size for Admirals hockey. Greenberg says they had their first sold out game last season, and this year, the Admirals introduced the Admirals 365 promotion, a membership for season ticket holders that allows fans to pay for their tickets over 12 months.
Creating the Admirals Experience
When Greenberg first began building his business team, he gave each employee a copy of Mike Veeck’s book, “Fun is Good.” Greenberg says he may not have any control over the hockey game itself, but when fans come to the Panther Arena, his staff provides entertainment from the beginning of the game to the end. Customer service is key, so this year, Greenberg and his staff have initiated the Admirals Awards, a wooden coin with the inscription, “Thank you for creating a great experience” that is handed out to management finds out about or sees an employee doing something good.
The Admirals have a great sponsorship base that allows them to do lots of promotions. Sponsorship is an opportunity for smaller companies to get involved in sports marketing without paying the high price tag of professional sports. Sponsors have lots of opportunities to engage with fans as all 38 games in a season are treated as 38 different shows.
The Admirals begin each season with a brainstorming session, where everyone comes up with crazy ideas. Sometimes they get the inspiration for their ideas from other AHL teams, like the Admirals Dog Days, which is also done in San Antonio, or from visiting other Triple-A baseball teams. Greenberg says they also have also a Blue-Ribbon committee of 4 to 5 members, that does not include Greenberg or the Admiral’s owner. The committee’s sole responsibility is coming up with new ideas that might include a “Salute to Candy Corn” or a “Salute to Hot Sauce” just for the fun of it. Its Human Hockey Puck” promotion has been a fan favorite since the Admirals first began and has been tried by many other teams as well.
According to Greenberg, the Admiral’s are the gold standard of entertainment in the league. The league’s AHL Fan Appreciation Award, which began in 2008, has been awarded to Greenberg’s team three times.
Next year is the Admirals 50th anniversary, and we can only imagine they will be pulling out all stops for this celebration.
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