The AHL is going to benefit greatly because of the NHL lockout this season, and it's important that the league does everything it can to promote its product while hockey fans are looking for ways to enjoy the sport without NHL action.
Since the AHL season is already underway and the NHL work stoppage doesn't appear to be ending soon, there is no better time for the AHL to display its impressive quality of hockey to fans everywhere.
Let's look at how AHL teams can cash in on the NHL lockout.
Promote the NHL Talent on AHL Teams
The lockout has forced many NHL players to take their talents to the AHL for the time being, so now is the perfect time for the marketing departments of these minor league teams to get creative and promote their product.
Not only can AHL teams promote their own team's NHL players, they can promote the fact that other teams have good NHL talent on their rosters too, which could help boost ticket sales across the league.
Here are some of the best NHL players who are playing in the AHL right now.
|Mikael Granlund||Forward||Houston Aeros||Arguably the best prospect in hockey.|
|Jordan Eberle||Forward||Oklahoma City Barons||Budding superstar for the Edmonton Oilers.|
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Forward||Oklahoma City Barons||Calder Trophy finalist in 2012.|
|Sven Baertschi||Forward||Abbotsford Heat||Top candidate for the 2013 Calder Trophy|
|Chris Kreider||Forward||Connecticut Whale||New York Rangers' top prospect, future NHL star.|
|Adam Henrique||Forward||Albany Devils||Best young forward on the New Jersey Devils.|
|Jaden Schwartz||Forward||Peoria Rivermen||A talented forward prospect for the St. Louis Blues|
|Sean Couturier||Forward||Adirondack Phantoms||Had a great rookie year with the Flyers in 2011-12.|
|Justin Schultz||Defenseman||Oklahoma City Barons||Promises to be a top rookie defenseman in NHL.|
|Ryan Ellis||Defenseman||Milwaukee Admirals||Has the potential to be a No. 1 defenseman in Nashville.|
|Brendan Smith||Defenseman||Grand Rapids Griffins||Could be the Red Wings' next superstar defenseman.|
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson||Defenseman||Portland Pirates||One of the best young defensemen in the NHL.|
|Jake Gardiner||Defenseman||Toronto Marlies||Had an impressive rookie season for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2011-12.|
|Jacob Markstrom||Goaltender||San Antonio Rampage||Arguably the best goalie prospect in hockey.|
This list helps illustrate the high level of talent in the AHL right now and also proves why it's the best place in the United States to watch the stars of tomorrow in a competitive setting.
Not only can AHL teams draw fans to games by letting them know that their favorite NHL team's top prospects will be playing, they can lure fans by showcasing some established NHL stars such as Jordan Eberle.
The Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers affiliate) will be one of the biggest winners of the lockout because they can sell tickets by giving fans the opportunity to watch some of the best young players in hockey such as Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Schultz.
All of the AHL teams in non-traditional hockey markets such as Oklahoma City must promote the NHL talent on their rosters. This will draw fans to the games, which is where they will realize that AHL games are fun and exciting.
The NBA's regular season hasn't begun yet, so there is still time for AHL teams to bring in casual fans before basketball season is underway.
For families that have trouble affording the large costs of taking four or more people to an NHL game, AHL teams can give these people an opportunity to see NHL quality players for a smaller price.
AHL tickets are inexpensive compared to the prices that their NHL affiliates set, so letting people know that they can see NHL players and not have to break the bank is a good marketing strategy to use throughout the lockout.
Allow More Media Access
One way to increase people's knowledge of the AHL and its players is for the league to allow more media members than normal to cover its games during the lockout.
The AHL is going to see a rise in media exposure throughout the lockout for several reasons, one of which is because many beat writers covering NHL teams will likely cover AHL teams at some point during the work stoppage to give fans updates on top young players and prospects.
The league would be wise to take advantage of this opportunity and allow as much media as possible to sit in the press box.
For the AHL to gain the most amount of fans possible during this NHL lockout, it has to make an effort to increase the amount of media outlets coverings its teams on a daily basis.
Give Fans Reasons to Come Back After NHL Lockout Ends
The biggest challenge for AHL teams this season will be to convince fans to keep buying tickets once the lockout ends and, as a result, many of the best players in the league go back to the NHL.
For AHL teams to really benefit from the lockout, there needs to be some sort of sustained growth, and not just a temporary increase in fan interest and ticket sales due to the lockout.
To get fans to come back after the NHL's work stoppage is over, AHL teams need to have fun promos during every game, create a fun environment for kids, include plenty of intermission entertainment and prizes and maintain low ticket prices.
Even though fans might live close to an NHL team, seeing good hockey for a cheap price may be enough to persuade them to keep buying AHL tickets.
For example, many Manchester Monarchs fans live about an hour or two from Boston, but the cost of seeing Bruins games regularly is far more expensive than buying tickets to see the Monarchs, who have had players such as Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown play for them.
If AHL teams can prove to fans that their games are a fun and inexpensive way to enjoy the sport of hockey, many of these fans could decide to continue purchasing AHL tickets instead of high-priced NHL tickets even though the lockout has ended.
I know many hockey fans in New Hampshire who would rather go to Monarchs games than spend lots of money on gas, food, parking, tickets and drive three-plus hours round trip to see the Bruins.
Giving fans reasons to come back after the NHL lockout is a top priority for AHL teams right now.
An Opportunity that Must be Taken Advantage of
During the last lockout, players such as Eric Staal and Patrice Bergeron were able to develop their skills in the AHL, which helped them become star players and important parts of Stanley Cup-winning teams later in their careers. There will be players during the current lockout that experience the same thing.
Not only will these players' careers benefit from the AHL, the fans and the league as a whole will also be helped by the NHL's work stoppage.
The lockout has given the AHL a tremendous opportunity to build its brand, and the league must take advantage of this chance for growth and increased exposure.
The AHL and many of its teams were able to set attendance records during the previous lockout, and if the league does a good job of promoting its product during this work stoppage, similar results can be achieved.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.