The Minnesota Wild and The State of Hockey

Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild
Photo Credit by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images and Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild, despite having played in the NHL for only 17 seasons, are connected to their fan base. Other professional sports organizations, with much longer histories, don’t enjoy the same type of relationships.

This year’s team is trying to fight off archrival Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the Central Division of the Western Conference. Starting the season at 20-1 odds with Vegas odds makers to win the Stanley Cup, they’ve increased their chances in experts’ eyes and have moved to only 8-1 odds.

The Wild play their home games to sell-out crowds at Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul. Minnesota has a rich professional sports scene with the Minnesota Vikings (football), Minnesota Twins (baseball), Minnesota Timberwolves/Lynx (basketball), and beginning in 2017, the Minnesota United FC Loons (soccer). When you combine that with the University of Minnesota’s competitive teams in the Big 10 Conference, Minnesota sports fans have many options to choose from for sports entertainment.

Minnesota: The State of Hockey

In Minnesota, the sport of hockey holds a special place in residents’ hearts. From pee-wee’s through adult recreational leagues, hockey is to Minnesota what basketball is to Indiana, and football is to Texas. Even The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships are played at Lake Nokomis just across the border into Minneapolis.

This week’s Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament is just one indication of Minnesota’s love affair with the sport. Sell out crowds will watch the games at the Xcel where a typical year might see 135,000 fans come to 8 sessions worth of games. Some 21,000 fans watch the AA Finals in person. The average attendance for a Boston Bruins’ game is about 17,500. And for those hockey fans who can’t score tickets, well, they’ll likely be watching on TV – as quarter-final games through the finals are all televised.

Herb Brooks – His Passion for MInnesota Hockey

The passion Minnesotans have for hockey can be felt in a quote from Herb Brooks, the U.S. Olympics Coach of “The Miracle on Ice” who passed away in 2003.

“Of all the thrills I’ve had in hockey – playing and coaching in the Olympics, winning NCAA titles, coaching the Rangers – I can honestly say the biggest was winning the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament,” said Herb. “No question about it. It’s because you do that with kids you’ve come up through the ranks with. You lived for the day you had a chance to try out for the high school team, hoping you’d get the sweater number of some guy you admired. Then you lived for the day you made the tournament, so you could win it and share that with your mates. It sounds like bull, but that win in high school was a bigger thrill than the gold medal.”

The Minnesota Wild’s Approach

So, how does the Wild leverage all that Minnesota interest in hockey? As an organization, they’ve been able to hit the right notes on many fronts. When the beloved North Stars left in 1993, there was definitely a vacuum for many hockey enthusiasts.

John Maher, Vice President of Brand Content and Communications for the Wild, indicated that the Wild were in a unique situation in that the Minnesota Wild had, “Three years from the time their franchise was awarded to when they knew they were going to play their first game; and they had interested and paying customers from that very first day in June of ’97 because of that pent up desire for NHL Hockey from the North Stars leaving.”

The Wild quickly established itself as a marketing organization that knew what they were doing. From the big picture to the small details, Wild officials delivered for fans who were hungry for hockey.

Minnesota Wild’s John Maher Interview – History of the Franchise

Some of the strategies and tactics that the Minnesota Wild have embraced through the years to promote the team and hockey include:

Linking the Wild to “The State of Hockey” theme

In their first season, the Wild leveraged Minnesota’s rich hockey heritage, by emphasizing “The State of Hockey” theme. At home games, a child skates to center ice with The State of Hockey flag before the puck drops. The theme, supported by the deep roots of the game in ponds, lakes and parks across the state, is also bolstered with The State of Hockey Anthem. The song is played at every home game right after the first period.

The State of Hockey Anthem Lyrics

We were raised
With the stick
And a pair of blades
On the ice we cut our teeth
We took our knocks
In the penalty box
Our mother was the referee

This sport was here
Before we came
It will be here when we’re gone
The game’s in our blood
And our blood’s in the game
Lay us down under
A frozen pond

We will fight to the end
We will stand and defend
Our flag flying high and free
We were born the child
Of the strong and Wild
In the State, the State of Hockey

A big blue line runs around our state
A line that can’t be crossed
The day they try to take this game
Is the day the gloves come off

We will fight to the end
We will stand and defend
Our flag flying high and free
We were born the child
Of the strong and Wild
In the State, the State of Hockey.

The Minnesota Wild and The State of Hockey image
The State of Hockey flags flies in the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Hannah Foslien

John Maher Interview Video: Xcel Energy Center – An Arena Devoted to Hockey

Hockey Day Minnesota

In mid-winter, the Wiold in cooperation with Fox Sports North features two Minnesota high school games played outdoors, a Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey game and an NHL game. If you can’t get your fill of hockey on this day, something may be wrong.

John Maher Interview Video: Hockey Day Minnesota

Prince Tribute

Minnesota, perhaps more than most state, are very proud of their own. In the music scene Prince is right up there with home-grown Bob Dylan as two of the most loved Minnesota musicians. When Prince passed away in April of 2016, the Wild used his popular song, “Let’s Go Crazy,” as their goal horn to be played whenever they scored. The fans liked it so much, they voted it in as the choice going forward for all games.

The Minnesota Wild Foundation

In total, the Minnesota Wild Foundation has granted over $3 million dollars to
Minnesota non-profits that align with its mission.

The “Wild About Children” Gala raised over $230,000. As a result, the Cancer Kids Fund at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota received $150,000 to help families with a child battling cancer or blood disorder. The remaining funds will support other Wild Foundation initiatives.

Nine local charities were selected as the inaugural recipients of the “Wild Idea Grant Program.” The non-profit programs received $180,000 in total, awarded as one-time grants that help to advance the foundation’s mission to support the game of hockey and improve the lives of families in the State of Hockey.

One of a kind fan experience

The results of all the Minnesota Wild’s efforts and more makes for a hockey fan experience that truly resonates with the audience. Xcel buzzes with excitement on game nights. Some of the smartest hockey fans in the world enjoy a sport that is in their blood.

— Andrew Elm and Mike O’Halloran

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