COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – After successfully completing its inaugural season in 2013-14, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) had many accomplishments and achievements to celebrate, while also having areas to improve upon. From the exciting moments, such as the regular season coming down to the final night and the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff, to the mundane tasks of creating bylaws, manuals and a sound financial structure, a lot took place during the NCHC’s first year of competition.
The NCHC recently conducted its Annual Meetings in Naples, Fla. (April 28-29), with all coaches, Athletic Directors and Faculty Athletic Representatives on hand to discuss several topics surrounding the future of the conference. The following represents a summary of the NCHC’s successes during its inaugural campaign, as well as a focus on the future, which highlights topics discussed at the Annual Meetings.
“The conference office and member institutions are committed to excellence in our everyday work. This review allows our passionate fans to see ‘behind the scenes’ of conference operations, including points of accomplishment from the past year and our focus for the future,” NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton said. “Our fans are well educated and aware of our already documented ‘statistical accomplishments’ but this review provides them something different to learn more about the conference operations. The body of work accomplished in the inaugural season is a credit to the eight member schools and the conference office staff for their unwavering commitment to provide the best college hockey conference platform for our students and fans.”
Beyond the ‘Year in Review’, the NCHC will be counting down the top 10 moments/achievements from the past season on NCHCHockey.com, revealing a new moment/achievement each day, beginning Wednesday, May 14 with the No. 10 moment and ending Tuesday, May 27 with the top moment from the 2013-14 NCHC season.
Before the season could even start however, a set of rules, policies and regulations had to be set in place, which is where we begin our review of the 2013-14 season.
Although likely going unnoticed by many, the first year of the NCHC’s existence was spent developing the NCHC Bylaws, policies and procedures and various operating manuals that the conference uses to operate. The following is a list of documents completed in the past 12 months.
1. Bylaws – The bylaws govern the internal management system and processes of the member institutions and conference office.
2. Policies and Procedures – The policies and procedures manual guides the day-to-day operations of the conference office staff and member institutions. It provides common ground on how the conference operates.
3. Game Operations Manual
4. Facility Operations Manual
5. Off-Ice Officials Manual
6. On-Ice Officials Manual
7. NCHC Tournament Manual
8. Sports Information Director (SID) Manual
9. Staff Employment Handbook
The financial accomplishments in the first year can be categorized in two manners. First was the overall establishment of a financial operating model, which included creating a budget structure and financial processes to give the conference the best opportunity for financial success. The second was the actual financial operations of the conference. With revenue generated through the NCHC Tournament and proper expenditure management during the year, the financial performance in the conference’s inaugural year is expected to be healthy. Below are revenue areas that contributed to our financial performance.
1. NCHC Tournament – Both the quarterfinal campus-site series and the NCHC Frozen Faceoff generated sufficient revenue through tickets sold. Between all 14 NCHC Tournament games, a total of 75,861 fans were in attendance (the Frozen Faceoff had a total attendance of 17,254 fans), the most of any college hockey conference tournament in 2013-14.
2. Sponsorships – The following inaugural-season corporate sponsors provided the conference with partnerships that created value for our financial operations or enhanced experiences for our student-athletes and fans.
Principal Financial Group
3. Merchandise – With the conference brand being built throughout the course of the year, the conference saw increased merchandise sales from the Fan Shop on NCHCHockey.com and at the Frozen Faceoff in March.
NCHC Tournament/Frozen Faceoff
Perhaps the most visible and biggest accomplishment during the NCHC’s inaugural season was designing, creating and running a successful postseason tournament and championship weekend.
1. Campus-Site Games – The campus-site, quarterfinal series were well attended by NCHC fans and created a great atmosphere for the teams attempting to reach Minneapolis for the Frozen Faceoff. The quarterfinal games were streamed free to fans on NCHCHockey.com, the NCHC’s first-ever live streams.
2. NCHC Frozen Faceoff – Target Center was transformed from a traditional basketball venue to an exciting hockey atmosphere for the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff. Fans were treated to an engaging atmosphere and great hockey.
a. Live National Television - Both semifinals and the championship were on national TV (CBS Sports Network)
b. Frozen Faceoff Live - Created on NCHCHockey.com to help fans stay connected with the Frozen Faceoff digitally
c. Awards Celebration – Held at Muse Events Center in Minneapolis the night before the Frozen Faceoff semifinals. The inaugural Awards Celebration was hosted by CBS Sports Network personalities, while honoring the NCHC’s top players and student-athletes with videos and awards.
d. NCHC Fan Skate – Held at Target Center following the Awards Celebration and provided fans the chance to skate on the ice before the games the next day.
e. NCHC Fan Fest – Set up outside Target Center on Target Field Plaza with live music, games, food/drink, and sponsor activations during both days of the Frozen Faceoff. Fan Fest provided a great fan engagement event in addition to what took place in the arena.
f. Coaches Clinic – In coordination with Minnesota Hockey/USA Hockey, the NCHC hosted a coaches clinic for youth coaches in Minnesota. Eighty-five coaches participated.
With the NCHC entering its first season, branding was vitally important to the conference. Educating the general public about the conference, including the promotion of our logo, was a focus of the conference office during the year. There were a variety of manners in which we attempted to build our brand.
1. Website/Mobile App – The full NCHCHockey.com website launched two months before the season started, but had to be built from scratch with the help of Sport Ngin. The website gave fans a place to find information about both their team and the conference, while also providing unique content. Many unique features were placed on the site, including a weekly radio show, video highlights and features, and other promotions. The mobile app, similarly to the website, allowed fans access to information quickly on their smart device.
2. Television – Through our partnership with CBS Sports Network, 18 NCHC games were televised nationally, allowing fans across the country to see the best in college hockey. The CBS Sports Network production quality and unique features during the broadcast significantly enhanced our brand through live telecasts.
3. Social Media – Through the NCHC’s social media channels of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, the conference was able to interact directly with the fans. Our social media following and engagement continued to increase as the year progressed. Our Twitter followers grew by over 3,000 during the season while Facebook gained nearly 1,000 likes. On YouTube, the Top 5 Goals of the Week video was great for promoting our student-athletes but also received well over 1,000 views per video.
4. Public Relations/Advertising – By partnering with local Minneapolis PR personalities and firms the conference was able to generate news and information about the NCHC and Frozen Faceoff through traditional media outlets, primarily in Minnesota. In addition, an advertising campaign was launched to create additional visibility through print, TV, radio, and online mediums.
5. Partnerships – The NCHC used partnerships with Minnesota Hockey and Let’s Play Hockey newspaper to enhance the brand and ‘tell the NCHC story.’
6. Trophy Tour – After unveiling the Penrose Cup at Media Day, the Cup toured each of the eight NCHC venues for a weekend during the second half of the season.
7. Member School Promotion – Each of the eight NCHC member schools have NCHC branding in their arena, as well as the logos of each NCHC member. The schools were also provided ‘turn-key’ marketing and promotional assets to help build the conference brand in their arenas.
With the creation of a new conference comes the need for a strong officiating staff. The conference was able to establish a newly modeled officiating program that focused on on-going communication, supervision, and development during the year. Below are the important accomplishments with the officiating program.
1. Hiring – The process for establishing an officiating program started with hiring Director of Officiating, Don Adam. Once Don was hired, a large pool of experienced officials were vetted and selected to work within the conference. The conference hired experienced college hockey officials and also introduced experienced professional and junior hockey officials to the college game for the first time.
2. Officiating Camp – Prior to the season commencing the NCHC conducted the first ever Officiating Camps in Colorado Springs, Minneapolis and Detroit. The camps encompassed a wide spectrum of educational sessions for referees and linesmen, including on and off-ice training.
3. Supervision/Feedback - A conference official, (Joe Novak [Director of Hockey Operations], Don Adam, or an officiating supervisor) was at nearly every home NCHC contest, allowing them to monitor officials’ progress and provide immediate feedback to the on-ice officials between periods and after games.
4. Education/Evaluation – Outside of supervision and feedback provided on-site during games, the conference office used technology and video to help officials’ development during the year. An evaluation tool was developed and used during the year to provide each official a ranking. The evaluation was utilized when selecting post-season assignments.
NCHC Focus on the Future
With the NCHC’s inaugural season complete and our Annual Meetings concluded, there are several areas in which the NCHC will look to improve in the future. Much of what we will improve upon is a reflection of fan and member school feedback gathered during the year. As the conference transitions to our second year the focus of our efforts will be grounded in two key factors; the Student-Athlete Experience and the Fan Experience. We believe the success of the conference should be grounded in efforts to maximize these two important areas.
The NCHC staff has begun a strategic planning process, which includes analyzing feedback provided by fans, coaches, athletic directors, student-athletes and faculty athletic representatives to develop short and long-term goals for 2014-15 and beyond. Below are items that have been initially identified for enhancement in the future.
1. NCHC Tournament/Frozen Faceoff
a. Playing Surface – We recognize the need to get the ‘field of play’ at an optimal level for our students competing and for the fans attending the championship. The conference staff and Target Center are addressing items related to this area over the summer (i.e. ice conditions, boards/glass consistency, etc…).
b. In-Venue Experience – We believe the in-venue experience for our fans this past March was great. However, there are areas to improve, including educating ushers, security, and guest service staff on the uniqueness of college hockey, concession offerings and availability, in-game entertainment, and facility specific enhancements (most of which will be addressed through the upcoming Target Center renovation). Further, we will attempt to better integrate sponsor activations, including giveaways, into the fan experience within the venue.
c. Overall Event Experience – We want the NCHC Frozen Faceoff to be more than just hockey games. We want it to be an event, with other fan engagement events surrounding the hockey games. While we showcased many items to help with the fan experience in 2014, we want to enhance the following and add new exciting aspects in the future.
d. Student-Athlete Experience – Stated as a main objective for much of what we do during the year, we want the student experience at the Frozen Faceoff to be the high point in their entire season. Some of the ways in which we can achieve this are continuing to enhance locker room areas, providing a better playing surface, increased media presence at the event, further integrating the city of Minneapolis to the championship, and creating other ancillary events surrounding the weekend that showcase the overall significance to our students. In addition, we will look at ways to improve the travel experience for teams in both the quarterfinals and Frozen Faceoff.
a. Television – We want to augment the CBS Sports Network partnership with new distribution opportunities, particularly regionally and locally for our member schools.
b. Digital Streaming & Video Content – As we look to enhance NCHCHockey.com and seeing the success of many unique features and content this past year (including live streaming), the conference will be exploring all options to provide more video content (live and archived) to our fans through the website.
c. Mobile App/Website – We will continue to work with Sport Ngin to make the NCHC mobile app more user friendly, including the addition of a conference specific page. We will also explore other unique types of content (e.g. video, social media, features) that can integrate into the mobile app and website.
d. Social Media – We want to continue to build followers on Twitter and “likes” on Facebook. We are focused on developing new promotions and fan engagement activities through our social media channels. We are also looking at new platforms to add to what is already being used. Specific promotions and possible new platforms will be unveiled in the coming months.
e. Member School Branding – This method is ultimately the best manner in which we can expand our brand to fans. We started the process during the inaugural year for our member schools to help with promotion but we intend to expand the ways in which we promote the conference in member school venues, including creating a more uniformed look for the conference as a whole.
3. Financial Model
a. Campus Site and Frozen Faceoff Tickets – We will adjust pricing models and promotional campaigns to help sell more tickets during campus-sites series and the Frozen Faceoff. The process for renewing and purchasing tickets to the 2015 Frozen Faceoff will be unveiled in the coming months.
b. Sponsorships – We will be providing a more integrated sponsorship approach to partners, tying in assets available during the regular season with the opportunities during the tournament.
c. E-commerce/Licensing – Expanded offerings on the NCHC Fan Shop and other licensing opportunities, including merchandise sold at the Frozen Faceoff.
d. Diversification of Revenue Streams – Digital streaming rights, unique events, and other manners will be explored to expand revenue beyond the traditional areas.
e. Expense Model Optimization – As we enter the second year of operations we can better define and streamline our expenditures to invest in areas that focus on the student-athlete and fan experience.
4. National Leadership
a. Growing the Game at the College Level – We want to assist College Hockey, Inc., the organization striving to promote college hockey, and others in growing the game. Whether it is expanding the number of schools sponsoring the sport or the amount of players desiring to play college hockey, we will use our conference specific opportunities (e.g. tournament, website, social media, television, and more) to promote and strengthen college hockey.
b. Enhanced Hockey Relationships – We want to develop expanded relationships with hockey entities (e.g. the NHL, USHL, USA Hockey, other conferences, and more) to help expand and further develop the sport of hockey.
5. General Governance
a. Expanded Member School Involvement – Through official change in bylaws and intended engagement, the NCHC Presidents/Chancellors and Faculty Athletic Representatives will have an expanded role in conference matters.
b. Policies and Procedures – General policy and procedure changes are being made for more efficient operations.
As we begin to prepare for the 2014-15 season, we want to thank the fans for their support during our inaugural season, the feedback they provided throughout the season and after the Frozen Faceoff, and for developing and expanding the NCHC brand. We encourage our passionate fans to continue to provide feedback moving forward. We look forward to creating a great experience for our student-athletes and fans in 2014-2015.