Last updated on November 29th, 2021 at 04:00 pm
After painful decisions to cancel their seasons due to COVID-19 and many months of uncertainty, the Milwaukee Admirals and Milwaukee Wave are back. The Admirals returned to action in October and the Wave’s season begins in December.
As the teams return to competition from their pandemic hiatus, they are reconnecting with fans, sponsors and partners.
The Wave and the Admirals are both tenants of UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena in downtown Milwaukee and had their 2020 seasons trimmed at the height of their success. The Admirals were the American Hockey League (AHL) 2019-20 regular season champion, and the Wave was the Major Soccer Arena League (MSAL) defending champion (2018-19 season).
With their seasons canceled due to the pandemic, the teams tried to make the best of the situation. The Wave viewed the time off as a time to branch out and jumpstart their organization. The Admirals used the time to strengthen existing partnerships and continue building brand loyalty.
The Wave was ready to defend their 2018-19 championship title before the 2019-20 season came to an abrupt halt because of COVID-19. According to Mike Zimmerman, owner of the Milwaukee Wave, keeping engaged with fans and players is very difficult when the product comes off the shelf.
Zimmerman explains the Milwaukee Wave brand is essentially a “three-legged stool”, encompassing the professional team, the Wave’s camps and the SC Wave academy. The camps and the academy (the youth and high school players) are opportunities for the players, who coach the camps, to engage with over 2,000 athletes. Both keep the brand moving and are now part of the Wave branding down to the uniforms and color schemes.
“Without a product coming off the shelf, the Wave decided to focus our efforts on those two legs of the stool during COVID-19,” said Zimmerman. “If you accept that the Wave brand goes beyond the team and is these three product lines of our brand, then we did very well.“
With three full product lines, the team is looking for a significant title sponsor for the entire program. There’s excellent visibility for a title sponsor and a chance for the Wave to showcase the organization as a whole.
In addition to shifting their focus onto other products, the Wave continues developing their players with a new home training center. The Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital (MOSH) Performance Center is located at the Rock Sports Complex in Franklin. It will work with EXOS Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine and MOSH as their training and recovery partners.
Although it was 584 days before the Admirals returned to competition in mid-October, the team didn’t waste its time off. The organization spent that time reconnecting with its players, fan base, sponsors and partners.
Admirals president Jon Greenberg says that the team kept existing partnerships and didn’t lose any commitments. Some companies went above and beyond, like presenting partner Landmark Credit Union, extending their sponsorship a year to make up for the year the Admirals didn’t play. He adds they are still partnering with Potawatomi Hotel & Casino and Molson Coors.
Greenberg also mentions the Admirals’ long-standing relationship with the Milwaukee Brewers. The baseball team sponsors their uniforms, with the Brewers’ logo displayed for the past 15 years. The baseball team also provides dasher board and radio signage.
Even with a powerhouse behind them like the Brewers, Greenberg notes the organization is always open to new partnerships.
“If you want to dip your toe into sports marketing, we are a good place to do that. We can do a lot of things that may be a major league team can’t necessarily do,” said Greenberg.
If a company has a marketing idea that is something crazy or fun, the Admirals are a good starting point.
“We’re the place you probably should come to first because we have more nimbleness to pull that type of stuff off,” Greenberg said.
Many of the Admirals ticket deals are back, like the State Fair ticket, Winning Wednesdays and Ian’s Pizza College student deal. The organization is thrilled these partners have chosen to stick with the Admirals.
“That’s a tribute to the fact that we’ve been doing it well. It’s been well received. We will try to find more of those types of things to be doing. For now, we are doing the things we’ve done in the past and will continue to do well,” said Greenberg.
Access to heroes
Since families are a big part of fan engagement, both teams are looking to increase opportunities for families, groups and individuals.
When their schedule was announced, the Wave received inquiries about birthday parties, along with soccer teams and families looking at specific dates.
Every Wave game has “Access to Heroes,” where the fans are allowed down to the field to get autographs from the players after each match.
“To have players who play at such a high level interact with athletes and soccer players —that’s not always possible with other teams,” said Mike Doyle, vice president of the Wave. “The character of our players is something we care a lot about, and we put it on display during those autograph sessions,”
The Admirals offers a “Roscoe’s Crew Ticket Package,” which includes five ticket vouchers, along with the chance to be “Member of the Month” and ride a ship across the ice during a game. It’s an opportunity for the team to build their fan base from a very young age.
“It allows for families to come to watch Admirals hockey at an affordable price and showcase our product to the youngest fans,” said Greenberg. “We annually have a party for Roscoe’s Crew Club Members with our players, which affords them one of their first opportunities to interact with professional athletes.”
Because of COVID-19 protocols, this year is different. However, the Admirals prioritize getting their players out into the community by interacting with season ticket holders and corporate partners in the regular season. “It’s a significant part of the development of our players to engage with our fans, and it’s also fun,” said Greenberg.
Season ticket renewals
Because they’ve shifted from soccer as a “pure-play product” to soccer as “an electrifying fan experience,” the Wave has seen loyal fans rolling over their tickets and plans from the canceled season into this season. In recent weeks they have been firming up outstanding renewals.
Doyle says they’ve learned how much people missed soccer over the past year with the recent schedule announcement. He says many of the fans purchase full-season tickets for a family of five, encouraging their friends to buy a three-pack ticket plan so they can sit next to each other.
One challenge remaining with the Wave is the scheduling priority of the Panther Arena, where they are third in line in terms of scheduling. Because the schedule only came out recently, they have a short window to sell it.
Despite the roadblocks, the Wave likes their season calendar, which reflects several available Friday, Saturday and Sunday games, allowing families, teams and the public to see a match.
The Admirals season ticket renewals have the organization proud of their fan base. Greenberg said that the season ticket renewals lead the league in renewals and are a testament to the fans’ relationships with the organization. At the moment, the team has a 95% renewal of season tickets.
“What that says is people not only stuck with us last year when we didn’t play. They left their money with us, or they continued to make payments knowing that we were going to come back,” said Greenberg. “We told everybody we were going to come back. And they stuck with us.”