The Chicoutimi Sagueneens, like many other teams in the Canadian Hockey League, are trying to find a way to increase their fan base. Last season the Sagueneens saw their attendance decrease by roughly 7,000 fans.
So what does a junior team comprised of teenage boys playing in a league that prides itself on family entertainment do? Well, if you’re Chicoutimi, you kick off the new season by inviting fans to a dance party with Playboy playmates.
What exactly Playboy has to do with junior hockey in Chicoutimi, no one knows, but any publicity is good publicity, right?
"The saying any publicity is good publicity may apply to pseudo-celebrities like the Kardashians, but it certainly does not apply to corporations or sports organizations," said Dr. Lilly Buchwitz, a professor of marketing at Humber College. "Scandals, arrests, and other bad publicity damages brands, sometimes so seriously that they never recover."
She doesn't believe that in this instance however, the Sags will do irreparable damage to their brand. The event is scheduled for Saturday night after Chicoutimi’s regular season game against the Quebec Remparts.
“It is obvious that these people, like Beyonce or Shakira and Britney Spears, when going on stage, they have their stage costumes,” Sagueneens marketing director, Pierre Guillot told CBC Radio. (The Playboy Playmates) are not coming here to do a striptease, it's really a musical performance they just do.”
Sure, and Playboy is a magazine purchased for its articles.
As of this writing, the video promoting the party is still up on the team website touting the fact that some of Hugh Hefner’s finest will be coming directly from California - straight to the Saguenay. The league however, seems to be distancing itself from the event.
"The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League provides a high calibre hockey experience, fit for the entire family,” said QMJHL director of communications, Photi Sotiropoulos. “We concentrate on exciting matchups, intense rivalries and superb athleticism to attract people to our venues. The mentioned event is a team initiative and is in no way sponsored by the league.”
So when high caliber hockey fails – the Sags were 13th out of 18 teams last season - the best bet is to ostracize a portion of the still loyal fan base in order to appeal to more bro dudes and frat boys.
"Of course when you take risks there are always going to be people who will criticize what you're doing," said Buchwitz. "That doesn't mean you should play it safe, because playing it safe in marketing doesn't get you very far.
"For any company or organization to be successful in its marketing, they have to take risks, and that's what this team is doing, and they should be applauded for it."
The real test for this promotion is whether or not it will draw fans. As you might imagine, bringing in Playboy models is not going over well with families bringing young children to the games.
Pas impressionne du tout par la soirée DJ/Playboy des Saguenéens de Chicoutimi. Croyez-vous vraiment que j'y emmènerai ma fille de 7 ans?
— Rick Springhetti (@Rick1042) September 19, 2014
"Not impressed at all by the DJ/ Playboy party of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Do you really think that I will bring my 7-year-old daughter?" wrote Rick Springhetti, a Montreal-based scout for McKeen's, on Twitter.
Also at issue is the kind of message the hockey team is sending to its female fans.
"No need to be a feminist to find it sexist and inappropriate in this case," said Geneviève Larouche, a social worker with La Maison ISA in Chicoutimi, in an interview with CBC.
Even local politicians have been weighing in on the controversy. After the promotion made headlines in Quebec, Dany Morin, the Member of Parliament for Chicoutimi-LeFjord posted his views on Facebook.
Am I the only one uncomfortable with this sexualization of Saguenay hockey? With the hyper-sexualization of young people in schools and pressure from society so that girls/ women are attractive at all times, it seems to me we should not add in the exposing of children to behavior and sexualization of images during a "game" of hockey with the family
The bottom line is this: Nothing consistently fills a rink better than a winning hockey team and no amount of T&A can beat it. Building a winning hockey club also takes a lot of hard work, much more time and effort than say, throwing a party.