I grew up in Sunrise Florida; not 10 minutes from the BB&T Center and became a lifelong Florida Panthers fan. Currently however, I no longer live in South Florida. This past week though I traveled back home and got to enjoy a Panthers game while I was there. I noticed something while I was down in Florida however. Even with the Cats doing as amazing as they are, Panthers gear and community presence is scarce. I traveled from store to store area to area trying to find Panthers stuff to buy; as it’s rare to find where I live now and online stores have bare bone items. When I traveled through Tampa and Georgia however their teams where featured wall to wall in the local Lids and Wal-Mart. It was more common to find other teams, especially New York teams due to the transplants, than any of the south Florida teams when walking into a store. So that got me thinking; why is it about the Panthers that has caused them to have such a hard time connecting with the local fan base since 1996? You always heard back in the day that the Panthers were bringing hockey to south Florida and it worked at first, but the organization still kind of has that mentality. We’re just gonna do our think and hopefully hockey will catch on. Having this mentality has kept them in the back of the minds of sports fans in Florida. I think the approach that the organization needs to take moving forward is no linger bringing hockey to Florida, but bringing Florida into hockey. The team has been down there long enough to establish themselves as a mainstay and I think now is the time to embrace the diversity of the area that they live in to not only bring in more fans, but to show the rest of the hockey world that we are something different and unique.
So how do the Panthers do this? For starters, the food choices need to be completely rethought. There are too many generic food choices like your burgers, hot dogs, and pizza and that is fine, but there is a plethora of distinct and amazing foods right outside those doors of the BB&T Center. First you can start with familiar names that you don’t get outside of the area. Pollo Tropical for your Caribbean flavors or Miami Subs for a local familiarity. After that you bring in local caterers to put local foods in your food stands. In all of the food options the only unique food I found was a Cuban sandwich. A person should be able to walk into our arena and have options to pick up selections of Cuban food, Jamaican food, Peruvian food, Puerto Rican food, and so on. This not only offers a new experience to people visiting our arena for a game, but also shows the local population that they are being represented within the arena.
The next big step is to add some promotional nights that celebrate the local cultures. This would obviously have to be done in a tasteful way, but I think the Panthers and the NHL as an extent would be able to pull this off. One of the reasons that the Miami Heat have been enduring to the fans is their ability to embrace the environment they are located in. I think it’s be great to see a hispanic heritage night and a Caribbean heritage night. You could even have promotional jerseys they are featured that night. For example, take the current home jersey change the word mark of Panthers to Panteras and then feature different hispanic flags in the white striping of the jersey. Feature music from the spotlighted culture, something that should already be happening, and maybe spotlight some local heroes that spotlight their culture or honor their heritage.
The final thing I think that needs to happen with the Panthers is including some merchandise that speaks to the local styles as well. The Panthers often suffer from just featuring the generic Lids, Fanatics, and NHL Shop merchandise. What works up in the north east or midwest doesn’t work the same as in south Florida. THere’s a unique style that comes form the local scene that isn’t being represented in team merchandise. Bringing in some local clothing designers to create a uniquely south Florida items would be a great move from the team. Creating decorative items featuring some of the slang of the area would be a greta move as well. I bought a wall decoration that features coordinates of the arena on it and while that may work for other southern teams; it doesn’t fit the aesthetic in south Florida as well. For example, years ago area codes were a huge thing to represent; especially between Miami-Dade county and Broward County. The Panthers could’ve easily taken a page out of the University of Miami’s book and sold merchandise with 954 plastered on it and it would’ve sold. Find those trends and incorporate it.
I think changing the mentality of bringing hockey to Florida to bringing Florida to hockey would be a great business move for the Florida Panthers.
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