Tania Moreno, SVP Marketing for the Arizona Coyotes NHL hockey team, talks through the challenges of growing the sport in a non-traditional market during COVID-19. She also explains the importance of diversity and inclusion to the team and the game.
LB Harvey Welcome to the Heart of Business. My name is LB Harvey and we have a special finale for season one. Our producer, Matt Klassen, was able to interview Tania Moreno, the SVP Marketing, or the Arizona Coyotes NHL professional hockey team. Now, is this a sports podcast or a business podcast?
Matt Klassen Well, at least we've branched out a bit from basketball!
But no, this is a business podcast. And all season long, we've been talking to leaders who've had to adapt to some of the toughest market conditions ever, like Zeus, TripActions, Snaptravel—all of their core businesses were completely shut down at one point and they all got through by doubling down on their customers. So, let's go back to spring 2020. LB, are you a hockey fan?
LB Harvey I'm not a genuine hockey fan. I did briefly date a guy who was very into hockey and went to several games in Washington, D.C. And while I totally appreciate the energy, the skill and actually the aggression of hockey, I can't say I'm a consistent fan.
Matt Klassen OK, well, hopefully this story kind of gets you into the ice hockey fever. We'll see what happens.
But back in 2020 in spring, in February, the Coyotes were right in the middle of a playoff race when the entire league, along with almost everything else, was forced to shut down. But hockey hasn't been the same since.
The NHL hosted their playoffs and their Stanley Cup finals, their championship, in the fall, months after they were supposed to from a bubble in Canada, in Edmonton and Toronto. And then they started their most recent season four months late, and they've been dealing with postponed games, drastically reduced attendance. Many places they don't have any attendance in person at all. They've got reduced revenue.
And Tania started her job as SVP of marketing at the Coyotes right in the middle of all of that.
LB Harvey Wow. I imagine that's a tough, tough road. I mean, I know— I'm enough of a football and basketball fan to kind of follow what's happening with those respective sports. And I know, you know, the seasons have gone on and I think tons of viewers and success in the NBA and the NFL.
But I can imagine that some of the same challenges around players getting COVID the risks of fandom in the stands, et cetera. I can imagine that's a really tough place to be marketing for, let alone new to a marketing job in such an impacted industry.
Matt Klassen Totally. And we talked about all of those things. But I think the one thing that I definitely want to call out and I think the thing that Tania and I were both most excited to talk about, were some of the Coyotes' diversity and inclusion efforts, which are really going kind of above and beyond, and I'm so excited to share that story with everybody.
LB Harvey Yeah. I mean, that's such an important, critical conversation. And it's interesting when we talk about 2020, so often coronavirus or COVID is the first thing that pops up.
But there was also a lot of really bringing some of the diversity, equity and inclusion themes to the to the front this year, right? With George Floyd here in the United States, et cetera. So I also think it's a highly topical thing for us to be talking about on the show.
Matt Klassen Yeah, and there was a there was a big reckoning right during the George Floyd protests in the NHL, as there was in the NBA and a lot of other sports. And so it's kind of a watershed moment, I think, for the NHL, which I'm not sure if you know, but it's probably one of the whitest sports out of the major four in North America, at least definitely more so than in basketball and football.
So, yeah, there's a long way to go in sports and in the NHL. And I'm glad that the Coyotes are trying to be a part of that.
LB Harvey Yeah, I definitely I'm familiar enough with the NHL to know that the that the demographics aren't aren't incredibly diverse. And so that's really interesting.
And to your point, there's been a reckoning across the sports world, I know. I think Roger Goodell came out on behalf of the National Football League and really kind of did a 180, frankly, on his previous stances around players getting really involved in the movement, et cetera. So I'm fired up to hear more from Tania.
Matt Klassen Absolutely. Me too. I am a huge hockey fan, like I grew up in Canada. I've been a fan of the game my entire life. I play it so I'm super excited. It is something of a of a moment for me, maybe a career highlight. I don't know if there's a Venn diagram of marketing, podcasting, and ice hockey, I'm right at the center and there's probably not a whole lot of company there, so I'm pumped for it.
LB Harvey Awesome. All right. Well, let's hear it. Matt, here's your interview with Tania Marino of the Arizona Coyotes.
Matt Klassen So I moved from Canada to Arizona just a year or two after the Coyotes did, and that's more than 20 years ago now. But ever since then, I've been reading stories from time to time in the mostly Canadian sports media about how hockey just can't work in the desert.
Now, obviously, that's not what I've been seeing with my own two eyes as a fan of the team and a local beer league skater. Obviously, this franchise has had some ups and downs both on the ice and off. But it's hard to say that hockey doesn't work in a desert when you're in the middle of a sellout playoff crowd or when a kid that you've watched skate at the Scottsdale ice den gets drafted first overall to the NHL.
But things have changed a lot in the past year for all of us. Yes, but especially for hockey, for the NHL and for the Coyotes in particular.
And that's why I'm so incredibly excited to be joined by Tania Moreno, sSenior Vice President of Marketing for the Arizona Coyotes, to talk about some of those changes and how the team is reaching out to nontraditional communities to grow the game both in the middle of a desert and in the middle of a pandemic.
So, Tania, thank you so much for joining us.
Tania Moreno Thank you so much for having me, Matt. I'm excited about our conversation today.
Matt Klassen Yes. I am so excited, too. And I'd love to start off with kind of your journey to the NHL. I mean, you took a somewhat non-traditional pathway if there is such a thing. And how did you find yourself leading the Coyotes marketing after a background in Mattel, in CBS Sports? Like, how did you find yourself here?
Tania Moreno The short answer is through LinkedIn. Xavier Gutierrez, our CEO, is looking for someone to lead the marketing department here in the non-traditional sports role. He wanted someone that truly understood the brand side, the retail side, and he wasn't opposed to having someone come in that had worked for a team before, but I think it was appealing when he saw my my LinkedIn resume that I had worked for some really big not only agencies, but also brands and that I was local.
So LinkedIn works. Everyone should have their LinkedIn profiles updated.
But taking a step back, I did. I started my career on the agency side. Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, which is an agency out of Miami, was the number one agency in the nation. And so I just kind of set my eye on "Why not start at the top?" And I applied and got a media planning and buying assistant role.
Then I worked on the Slim Jim and Burger King and Hager clothing brands. I switched and went client side and started working at Burger King.
I wanted to know the client side of the product mix, like why does the Whopper sell the best and why do chicken sandwiches work really well in certain parts of the country? And I just I was craving that insider knowledge that sometimes agencies just don't get full scope into.
And then after I was there for a little while, a former coworker reached out and said, "Hey, I'm working at CBS Sports. We need someone to kind of help us with this World Cup coverage. And you know a lot about soccer. Would you be interested in coming to work here?" And so the thought of being able to work in sports media was so exciting, but also a little bit terrifying because I was a female, young female that had only heard horror stories of the male-dominated sports industry.
So I ended up working there for two and a half years. I signed on as a product manager and helped them run the World Cup the summer that they had it. And then I quickly switched over to actually help run social media there at the time, just wanted to make a change.
My family ended up moving out to Los Angeles, so I ended up working at Mattel for almost six years. I worked on the Barbie rebrand, which was a really huge initiative, and then most recently came from PetSmart and then got hit up by Xavier on LinkedIn. And here I am.
Matt Klassen Amazing. Well, that's such a story. I mean, it's so impressive because, you know, there's such a breadth of marketing experience that you've been on the cutting edge of, like the early days of social media, your experience at Mattel with a full scale rebrand for the 21st century, that's pretty amazing.
I've worked in marketing now for four or five years or so, but I've romanticized professional sports for my entire life. What is it really like working for an NHL hockey team? Like, are there any common misconceptions that you find yourself explaining to friends and family about what it's really like to work in pro sports?
Tania Moreno Yeah, I mean, I can give you I can answer both of those questions. So I'm enjoying it. I've been here a little bit over three months. You know, there are days where I'm on calls with gary Bettman and leading marketing calls with people from around the league, there are days that I have back-to-back meetings and get to open my 120 unopened emails at 5:00 p.m., there's days where Shane Doan will walk into my office and talk to me about the history of our uniforms. He's really eager to help us with some of our marketing initiatives that we have coming up.
And then there's days where my team is really just creating like your standard marketing calendar and looking at data and we're talking through what the next fan experience is going to be. I think the two common misconceptions that I've experienced so far is we do not hang out with the players. They're not just walking around our offices, you can't just walk in there and work out with them. It's it's very separate from what I hear. It is not as separate in a non-COVID world. Right? Right now, there's a ton of restrictions with player interactions and things like that.
But, yeah, we're not best buddies. They don't just hang out in our offices. I think a lot of people assume, oh, you work for a team you must hang out with OEL! Nope. That's not the case.
And the other common misconception is that other teams off the ice are not our competitors. The Sharks were here for over a month training. They had a couple of games here because their facilities were closed down due to COVID and and some restrictions with their government. And I had many conversations with their VP of Marketing about if they were to play here and they had fans, how would we market to them? Same thing with the Knights and things like that.
So on the ice, we are very much competitors. But off the ice, we're one team, right? The better that hockey performs and the more people that get into it, we all win.
Matt Klassen Yeah, absolutely. And just for our listeners who might not know, Gary Bettman is the commissioner of the NHL. OEL is Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the team captain, and Shane Doan is a former player, probably the best Coyote ever, who's now working in player development for the team.
But what you're saying is really interesting because this podcast is called the Heart of Business and it's sort of all about the connections that companies build with their customers and those little moments where the relationships are formed and the spark of something special happens.
And it's so interesting because in hockey, it seems like, you know, there are just so many stakeholders that the word "customer" doesn't really apply to or it could apply to a lot of different people. Like fans, obviously, but also advertisers, the partners that you work with, the other teams, the players, the league itself.
How do you think about building the relationships with other teams, but also with fans, but also with with advertisers and partners? Like there seems to be so many plates that you have to keep spinning in the air.
Tania Moreno Yeah, it's a great question. I always start with two things in mind. One is really love and care. And the second is what what value am I bringing to the table what value am I adding? So whether it's a fan like you just really have to love the fans and care about the fan experience. Same thing with the advertisers, right. Like what are they trying to accomplish? What are their business goals and how does that work? How can I help them accomplish that goal? And that ties into the value that I add. Right?
Same thing with the players. It's not just about like posting hockey highlights. At the end of the day, it's do they want to build their brand? Like, what are the social— I guess not impact... But what are some of those initiatives that really matter to them? And then how do we approach them and get them involved? I think oftentimes people forget that it's really that simple is just do you care about the stakeholders? Do you care to know what they're trying to accomplish and what matters to them?
And then what value can I add to what they're trying to do? And if it's truly that simple, or at least it has been for me?
Matt Klassen Yeah, I think about that a lot because I'm a huge consumer of NHL media and also Arizona Coyotes media, too. And sometimes you just see that people have a very special relationship and relationship with the fans. And that just doesn't happen by accident, does it?
Tania Moreno No, it doesn't! There's a lot of data and there's a lot of understanding like what matters to them. I think sometimes people just assume like, oh, did the team decide to throw a 90s night? And maybe some teams do.
But the reality is it's now we know through surveys or different interactions that we have with them on social channels or emails or just different platforms that maybe 90s really resonates with them. And so that's why we're having a 90s night, because they have a fantastic experience. They love the music, they love the graphics, things like that.
And so therefore, they positively associate your brand with their experience.
Matt Klassen Sure. And it must be such a blessing to have such some of the best 90s branding of all time. I mean, it's obvious that the team is kind of moving back towards the original Kachina logo. And I think that's so fantastic to see because I love that logo and I've loved it since I was a kid.
Tania Moreno Yeah, it is definitely one of the most beloved logos, at least in Arizona.
Matt Klassen Speaking of Arizona, back in 2019, the team got a new owner and Alex Meruelo became the first Latino owner in the NHL and pretty soon after Xavier Gutierrez became the first Latino president and CEO in the NHL and neither one of them has made any secret of the fact in interviews that outreach to Arizona's Latino community was going to be a priority.
With that in mind, I'd love to hear about how you think about building connections to this community that maybe doesn't have a cultural connection to ice hockey built in like like I did growing up in Canada, but is still such a huge and potentially nascent fanbase.
Tania Moreno Yeah, it's a great question. A lot of people don't realize that about 42 percent of the Phenix area self-identifies as Hispanic or Latino. So that is why outreach to that community matters just from a pure business standpoint. Right? It's like understand your market, understand how to go after them. The way that we are approaching it is that it doesn't start with hockey.
You can't push hockey to a non hockey fan. It's not as impactful as if you start with what are what are the communities interested in, what are their needs? Where are they already going? And then how do you merge your brand into that? So I'll give you an example. You know, family is really, really important to many cultures, but specifically to the Latino community.
And we have a fantastic youth development program in schools where we go in and we give teachers, teachers, hockey curriculums. We give them the equipment, we've written out the curriculum. And if they love doing that in school, when they're having fun with their friends, then the likelihood of them wanting to come to a game or wanting to talk about hockey and starting to research that going into roller hockey, then ice hockey, et cetera, it just becomes more of like an authentic integration.
Taking a look at like where do Latino families go as it is in Phoenix? The number one destination is actually the Phenix Zoo. So instead of trying to sell tickets to people that have never been here, could we do something with the Phenix Zoo so that when they're there, they they start to associate our brand and our team and then we drive them to come watch a hockey game.
So we're definitely pushing hockey to certain communities, but it has to start with what they're into and what their interests are as a whole. And that's marketing.
Matt Klassen Oh, for sure! So as a marketing insider, I would love to hear your process. Like, how do you go from that insight about the demographics to a strategy about outreach towards families, to the tactics that we're going to go to schools? What is your process look like of formulating those plans?
Tania Moreno My process always starts with the data. What data do we have on fans that are already coming? What are they buying? What is their purchase behavior? Where are they coming from? Like, I want to know everything and then taking a look at OK, pause, what is our market look like?
And then of the people in our market who's coming and just kind of looking at the data. And then from there I start looking at interest like other places that they visit. And from that is where the creative strategy and things like that get put together. But I love to start with current fan data market data and work my way up that way.
Matt Klassen So as a as a diehard hockey fan, I'll be the first to admit that that ice hockey is a very white sport, especially when you compare it to football and basketball. But I know that you're incredibly passionate about inclusion and diversity. We talked about that.
And so so what are the Coyotes doing in the organization and in the community to create more opportunity for people of color both in the sport and in the business?
Tania Moreno Yeah, it's a fantastic question. And I'm loving that almost every organization is having open dialog about this. I think the league as a whole has really, really stepped up this year and putting programs together for Black History Month.
They did a huge documentary around Willy O'Ree and the history as the first African-American hockey player. So I think it starts with the league, right? League initiatives and then transferring what those league initiatives actually mean. And how can we authentically partner with local businesses or organizations here to bring that to life?
And then the second is just for us, it's really what does diversity and inclusion mean to us as an organization, as a team? Why does it matter? And we have that in place and now we're putting programs together and just different outreach to be able to do that.
This morning, I was on a fireside chat with a former black player that was just talking about how much the game has grown. And he actually said that there wasn't really as big of a diversity issue in hockey as people think, but there was an inclusion problem. So you have diverse players, but they may not have felt included in the past and how that's really, really changed.
I think it's about representation and exposure to something as simple as when fans come to our game. Just really being mindful of our fan base is actually really diverse. Why don't we show that in the video, the video boards during a game? Why don't we celebrate the different types of families?
And I consider diversity not just the color of your skin, but different age ranges, different looks. Like my team right now. We've got someone that's got tattoos and like dresses funky and then someone that wears a suit every single day. Like, that's diversity to me as well.
So but, yeah, we I think the league and every team recognizes that hockey, which is known as being very white, expensive sport and is working together every team in the league to to really just help improve that and make a change.
Matt Klassen Sure. And it's and it's also about girls hockey, too, with the Kachinas as well as the NHL is also starting to make some kind of long overdue efforts to grow the game for women. I'm so curious what the future of women looks like in the NHL, especially on the business side where you have made your way into the league as well.
Tania Moreno Yeah, we... Our Kachinas program is doing phenomenally. It's actually run by Lyndsey Fry, who's a former Olympian silver medalist, and she's been doing a fantastic job. I think it's just about elevating the voices, right, and giving people the opportunity.
Paul Bissonette used to be the radio broadcaster and he could no longer do it and Lyndsey stepped up to do it. So it's about giving people the opportunity to be able to do some of those things that traditionally maybe haven't been opportunities for women in the past. What does the future look like on the business side? I mean, I hope that the future is bright.
I can say from the three and a half months that I've been here, I've never once experienced feeling different because I was a woman or that I don't understand sports because I haven't worked in sports as a whole. I think it's about starting your mindset with inclusion in mind every single day. Is what I'm about to plan inclusive? Is the group that I'm about to ask to lunch inclusive? Like just always being mindful of that.
And I think that's the future thinking anyways. Current and future.
Matt Klassen That's so good. I mean, yeah, it's like the same thing in tech, I mean, that is also had historic issues with with inclusion and diversity. And it just really does start with a play from a place of being mindful, normally where where you might not think about things. But taking a second to, you know, ask, are people feeling represented? Are people feeling included? Does this group that I'm a part of represent or reflect the diversity of the culture that I'm a part of?
And I think that's a fantastic place to start. And you're right, Lyndsey's done such an incredible job on the radio broadcast. Like, I've been really impressed. Sometimes I'll just tune into the radio just to hear Heeter and Lyndsey talk.
So I want to talk a little bit about how COVID-19 has affected the season and affected the Coyotes because it's changed life for for everybody across the country, across the world. But for the coyotes, like, I can only imagine what it's been like. I would ask how COVID-19 derailed your marketing plans, but you started in the middle of the pandemic. And so I'm sure you came in with a strategy for growing the fan base, for tackling these challenges despite these unprecedented times.
And so I'm curious about the ways that you've had to innovate to reach your customers amid the pandemic.
Tania Moreno I would say we've had to innovate our messaging and our product offerings for sure. We took about 81 suites that in a traditional season would be reserved for premium or corporate sponsors and offered many suites out to fans so you could book your own private suite and includes food. It includes your ticket, parking, et cetera.
Just for fans that maybe wanted to come back but didn't quite feel safe enough to be in seats that way. They could have suites that they could feel a little bit more private and safe in. The second piece in talking about safety is having to innovate around what is safety mean in our arena and how do we communicate what policies and procedures can we put in place, as well as how we communicate that.
So our arena has something called Safety Shield that it was implemented by ASM, who manages the building. We have fans download the Clear app that where they have to fill out a health questionnaire. We have a strict, strict policy on masks, et cetera, mobile ordering through our app. So really innovating in the sense of messaging strategy, which I don't think most people think is innovative. It's just strategic and that's OK. But in a pandemic, it's everything. I think our sales team as well has had to really innovate with that one to one personal relationship with season ticket members. And how do you make them feel great and happy and safe to come back?
The other pieces for those fans that want to stay home and don't feel comfortable coming back. How do you make them feel like they're part of that experience? We've got a game called Yotes Play that you can play along at home while you're watching the game or listening to it on the radio so that they can feel like they can still participate and still have a really fun time, even if they aren't here, unless they say we've had to innovate from the content front, which is really exciting. Right?
Like we played the Blues seven times in a row and that's never happened in the history of us playing. And so being able to have some fun with that content. The same thing with the Sharks when they were here, like we've never had a situation where you have two teams that are playing each other using the same facilities and being based in the same city.
So it's that that's been a really fun wild ride as well, I'm sure.
Matt Klassen And congrats on edging the Blues in that series. That was nail-biting television. I for sure was glued. It was it was impressive.
So I grew up watching the game, obviously, but a lot of people that I know, they first fell in love with hockey, watching it live near the glass, like there's something about the speed and the intensity of it that really— And the crowd around you that really is infectious. It makes people fall in love with the game, like I've seen it happen. Obviously, with limited attendance, that atmosphere is just harder to create and harder for people to access.
So I'm curious, like, obviously you've talked a little bit about the messaging and the technology behind it. What's next? How long is this? How long is the scenario going to go on and how are we going to engage these fans and get them back in the building?
Tania Moreno Yeah, another great question. I think for us it's about and it's finding the Coyote fan in waiting by again, not necessarily talking to them about hockey first. So reaching new fans is really about reaching out to the community, having like we have the Try Hockey for Free clinics that we put on really often. So kind of reverse engineering.
It is being out in the community and having our brand be recognized in other places besides the actual game and then hoping to get new fans that way as just as one of our as one of our pillars. But I agree with you, like I had never watched hockey on TV. I'm a huge sports fan and just never got into hockey. I lived in Miami and L.A. and it wasn't until I got to L.A. that I actually went to a Kings game and then thought, oh, my gosh, this this sport is really exciting. It's really fast. And I was sitting really, really far away, so I still didn't get super into it.
And then when I moved here to Arizona and the first Coyotes game that I went to, I was two seats back from the glass and I was hooked. There's nothing more thrilling than watching a live hockey game. And I totally get why I didn't get into it before, just watching it from home, because it just doesn't do it as much justice as being here live.
Matt Klassen Is there any way to to duplicate that experience or have you been experimenting with kind of trying to recreate it? Virtually maybe?
Tania Moreno We have we have a couple of ideas that we've been kind of throwing out. And as you can imagine, with just about any other team and leagues, it's it's not just what we want to do, but also you need league approval and and TV integration, the different pieces like that.
But, yeah, we are definitely throwing around some really fun, innovative ways to make fans well, we can't replicate the experience, at least make it a little bit more, make you feel a little more connected to the game than you ever have before.
Matt Klassen So what would you say to people who who still think that hockey can't work in the desert?
Tania Moreno I don't think it's about the location so much as it is about the fan base, what you do for the city and how relatable and personable and great the athletes and coaches are on and off the ice. I think a lot of people don't realize that in the desert, we get a lot of snowbirds, we get a lot of athletes and a lot of celebrities that actually come to escape the winter, right?
So this I mean, we on Monday, we're going to have 14 NFL players that are game like. Most people would think that in the desert you get the types of celebrities in and athletes that like in L.A. or New York would get. But we do. Yeah. Celebrities live here. Athletes train here year round or in the offseason, and athletes love to support other athletes.
So we have a really a fan base that, yes, we need to grow the game as a whole is growing and needs to grow. Without growth, you have no future just as a whole. But, yeah, I don't think it's something that a lot of people realize about Arizona.
Matt Klassen Like I mean, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews both trained here in the off season. I mean, it's like it's a vibrant community, especially if you go to the ice rinks around town.
All right. So we've got one last one last round of questions, and it's a speed round. So just, you know, whatever the first answer that comes to your mind, shoot it out. And we've got five questions here. We've done this every interview and it's always a good time.
Tania Moreno And to be fair, I did not read these ahead of time because I read Speed Round, quick answers, and I haven't read them.
Matt Klassen: I think that's the best way to do it because then you never know what you're going to get. All right. Here we go. Best book you've read recently.
Tania Moreno Megan Rapinoe's book, "One Life" that came out, I guess, a couple months ago.
Matt Klassen Favorite podcast other than the Heart of Business.
Tania Moreno I really like IdeaCast by Harvard Business, just really interesting topics and something just completely different than the world that I work in. So staying fresh on that, I really enjoy.
Matt Klassen Amazing work from home or work from the office?
Tania Moreno Work from the office. I like being around people even in masks and being forced to put on pants.
Matt Klassen Same here. Same here. What's your favorite purchase that you made during quarantine in 2020?
Tania Moreno My Tesla, which which is so counterintuitive, right? In quarantine, you think people are staying in. And it just made me more conscious about the world and how we treat it and how we treat each other and how health is so important and got rid of my gas guzzler and trade it in for the Tesla.
Matt Klassen Amazing. That's a great purchase. What's one brand that you admire the most?
Tania Moreno Besides our own? Wow, this is a hard one. This is like my world lately. I'll just give you the one that I admire the most lately. How about that?
Matt Klassen That's amazing.
Tania Moreno Yeti.
Matt Klassen Oh, the thermoses!
Tania Moreno They've been doing some really innovative things. Their targeting, their creative, their partnerships. It's it's really it's it's really great. For the products that they put out, like the type of messaging and their target market is is really, really interesting. I would definitely keep an eye on them.
Matt Klassen Oh, they've done some cool stuff on social for sure. And that's that's a counterintuitive choice. But I like it. I'm here for it.
Well, Tania, thank you so, so much for joining us here on the podcast today. It's been an incredible interview. And I'm so excited about what you're doing with the Coyotes. And and as a fan, I am just over the moon to talk to you and over the moon about what the Coyotes are doing this season.
So, again, thanks so much for being on the podcast.
Tania Moreno Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. And if you feel comfortable, you're always welcome to a game. Just let me know. We'd love to host you.
Matt Klassen Oh, one hundred percent. Thank you so much. I will. I will.