Habs launch loyalty program for fans

A Montreal Canadiens fan reacts to the NHL action against the Boston Bruins on a giant-screen in Montreal on May 14, 2014. Ryan Remiorz/CP

MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens are looking to connect with their fans around the world.

The National Hockey League’s oldest and most storied club inaugurated a loyalty program this week that allows fans to become members of Club 1909 and earn points for everything from spending money at the Bell Centre or at team boutiques to watching a game on television or following the team on social media.

The points can be redeemed for merchandise, but mostly the team hopes to offer things that aren’t normally on sale, like game-used pucks and other items, or auctions on experiences such as watching a game from behind the team’s bench with president Geoff Molson.

The Canadiens estimate they have 10 million fans around the world. The program’s name refers to the team’s founding in 1909.

Kevin Gilmore, the Canadiens’ chief operating officer, said the program is aimed less at selling more merchandise than at giving fans a greater sense of belonging.

“We’re not looking to grow our fan base because it’s there,” Gilmore said Thursday. “We’re looking to engage our fan base.”

He said while other sports teams have loyalty programs aimed mainly at season ticket holders, the Canadiens want to connect with all of their fans, wherever they are.

A fan can become a “digital” member simply by registering for free on www.club1909.com or pay a one-time fee of $29.99 to become a “premium” member and get double points for most things. Premium members receive a membership card that includes a piece of a game-worn players jersey.

Fans watching on TV are given a code to verify they are watching a game to get points, or they can get them through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google-plus. Digital members get a digital card they can use to track their points.

Members will have their names embedded in the Bell Centre ice the next time it is remade, likely in early 2015. They are also asked to shoot video themselves chanting “Go Habs Go,” and their images and voices will be added through the Bell Centre scoreboard to the fans chanting at the game.

With everything online, members can come from anywhere in the world. The team calls it “the largest and most expansive media campaign in franchise history.”

It is promoted by a series of quirky, 30-second videos featuring actor and die-hard Canadiens fan Jay Baruchel. In one, goalie Carey Price wakes up to find Baruchel in his bedroom wearing his underwear. In another, forward Max Pacioretty finds Baruchel hiding in his equipment bag.

The idea was to show a fan getting close to the team.

Gilmour said there may be a financial windfall through increased sales of T-shirts and other items, but it is not quite the kind of all-out international brand marketing that famous teams like Manchester United or the New York Yankees have done.

“We are not looking at opening a boutique on the Champs Elysee (in Paris),” he said. The NHL controls marketing rights outside each team’s geographic territory.

But Gilmour said the program is possible because the Canadiens are a “legacy” team that has fans across Canada and the United States as well as in Europe and Asia.

Defenceman P.K. Subban said the team and its record 24 Stanley Cups has enough prestige to go global.

“It’s a historic franchise and it’s a great way for fans to stay in touch with the team and interact with the players, so I’m all for it,” said Subban. “I think the Montreal Canadiens are definitely among that group of teams. A hundred and some-odd years of history definitely puts you in that group.”

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