“The web site is much more than just a vehicle of marketing; it’s the largest portal outside the box office for selling tickets. It’s a vehicle to the fans that’s grown incredibly in the last five or six years, from what we started out with when the team was established.” – Howard Sadel, ‘Canes execEver since Peter Karmanos, chairman and chief executive officer of Compuware, bought and relocated an NHL hockey team here, the Carolina Hurricanes have been ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, whether it be on the web site or via a wireless connection.

Even when the defending Eastern Conference champions were struggling to win games and attract fans while it played temporarily in Greensboro…and then still during its first couple of years in Raleigh…the Hurricanes put an emphasis on technology.

“It plays into it when you have an owner like Peter Karmanos and Compuware, a technology empire like that, behind the team,” says Howard Sadel, director of new media and graphic communications for the Hurricanes. “You definitely need to align to that.”

One of the first things the team did was to launch a web site, hosted by Cary-based Utenzi. That soon fizzled when Utenzi went out of business and the Hurricanes had to turn to their owner’s company, Compuware, to fill in. That is until now.

Springboard Managed Hosting, which actually bought out the assets and building of Utenzi along with some of its customers, has signed a multi-year marketing and service agreement with the Hurricanes to be the organization’s official Web hosting partner.

“We were really looking for a local web hosting solution,” explains Sadel. “In the past, we were with a local company (Utenzi), but in the shakeout of hosting, we had some problems–. Since then, we’ve made a surge to try to keep with our policy of spending locally. It made sense as a good corporate citizen, logistics of having a box here and not routing through half the country.”

Sadel says the ‘Canes did a lot of research, and Springboard matched up to be a company the team felt like it could partner with. He says the organization always looks for a partnership…to help a local business grow Triangle and strengthen its operations.

“We’re looking forward to a long-term, active partnership with the Hurricanes,” said Rich Lee, CEO and co-founder of Springboard. “We’re happy to have an opportunity to support the premier professional sports franchise in the Triangle, and to ensure a fast and reliable online connection for their fans.”

More than just a Web site

For the Hurricanes, signing a web hosting contract with Springboard means a lot to the team, in terms of having a reliable, secure and accessible site for its fans and other visitors. The site is much more than just a source for information or advertising tool. It is also an online box office, a communications tools, an interactive forum and so much more.

“It’s a very, very critical piece of our business,” Sadel tells Local Tech Wire. “The web site is much more than just a vehicle of marketing; it’s the largest portal outside the box office for selling tickets. It’s a vehicle to the fans that’s grown incredibly in the last five or six years, from what we started out with when the team was established.”

When the site launched in 1997, it registered 200,000 page views per month. That number now has increased to 1.7 million each 30 days.

While page views can included multiple hits from the same person, Sadel says the site still draws an average of 125,000 unique visitors per month. He says that figure is probably higher, but corporate proxy servers disguise many users under the same identity.

Even so, Sadel says he’s most proud of the amount of time each visitor spends on the Hurricane’s Web site. He says the New York Jets made a big deal when they reached 5 minutes per use. They ‘Canes, he says, average 8.5 minutes.

“That is a staggering number,” Sadel says. “We like to hope that we’re putting on competitive content, keeping it fresh, and constantly trying to develop new programs and contests–. It’s big part of our business and we believe that it will continue to grow as a means for people to get information from us. Outside of the pocket schedule, it’s the number one source of knowing when the games are,” he says of the site.

Leading the way in wireless

Beyond their web site, the Carolina Hurricanes have branched out to embrace other technologies, as well. Chief among those is wireless technology.

Through Canes1.com, the team’s official wireless site, it connects fans to scores, news and ticket information through their mobile devices.

Canes1.com is made possible by a licensing deal between the Hurricanes and OceanLake Inc. for its mScope software. mScope integrates into and Web-based application for deployment with no need for additional application development.

“The wireless side is another part of the business where we’re leading the way,” says Sadel. “We continue to be home of wireless hockey, interactive games — and maintaining Canes1.com.”

Carolina also became the first NHL team to advertise over wireless devices when they, together with Morrisville-based WindWire, launched a campaign designed to sell tickets via wireless devices in October 2000.

Utilizing WindWire’s wireless ad network, the Hurricanes reached out to consumers in the Carolinas and Virginia to win over fans, heighten brand awareness and promote season ticket sales. The initial trial of 1,000 ads produced an unusually high 15 percent click-through rate.

“We’ve been ahead of the curve, and the next 12 months, that space is going explode,” Sadel says of wireless. “We’re definitely leading the league. Other teams are doing it. We are advising other teams, on the game, the site itself and what we have cooking.”

NHL in RTP: A high-tech confluence

None of the Hurricanes high-tech focus should come as a surprise to hockey fans, especially those in Raleigh-Durham, one of the nation’s hotbeds of technology with the Research Triangle Park.

Add that to the fact that the NHL has the most “tech savvy” audience of any of the four major professional sports leagues, beating out the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

For example, the NHL has the highest incidence of broadband of the four leagues. The hockey league’s Web site, NHL.com, says 70 percent of its visitors have a broadband connection.

“Take the statistics from the NHL’s demographics and tack that onto this area (RTP), and you can go higher than that,” Sadel says of the Triangle having some of the highest-tech hockey fans in the country. “Our fans, especially on the business side, are early adapters of technology. We need to be on the bleeding edge to increase business. We needed to meet them where they live.”

What’s next? See related story on new ideas. www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=3014&k=12&l=30

Carolina Hurricanes: www.carolinahurricanes.com

Springboard: www.springboardhosting.com

Canes1.com: www.canes1.com