Case Study: Toronto Maple Leafs Use LeafsNation.club for Brand Community

Introduction

The word “club” resonates in so many areas that are relevant for brands, including sports brands. Not only are many sports teams worldwide referred to as clubs, but a “club” is relevant for any brand, team or celebrity with a community of loyal customers and/or fans. This built-in affinity for a club creates many logical and valuable opportunities for brands, teams, and celebrities to use a .CLUB domain name to support and grow their official communities. One example is the professional hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their official fan community at www.LeafsNation.club.

Turning Over A New Leaf

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most famous and revered teams in the NHL (National Hockey League). Based in Toronto, Ontario, they are one of the “original six” NHL teams and played their first NHL season in 1917. Solidly branded as the Toronto Maple Leafs today, the team’s full name is actually the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club.

Like most professional sports teams in a major league, the primary online presence for the team is operated by the league. Thus, the official website for the Toronto Maple Leafs resides at NHL.com and if you go to www.TorontoMapleLeafs.com it will re-direct you to www.nhl.com/mapleleafs. All of the NHL teams have a similar presence within NHL.com, using essentially the same template, and featuring ads most likely placed by the league.

Here’s the Maple Leafs’ home website:

www.TorontoMapleLeafs.com within NHL.com

And here’s another team’s page (www.NewYorkRangers.com):

www.NewYorkRangers.com within NHL.com

Pretty similar in design, look and feel, with a strong presence for the NHL itself.

Take Your Brand in Hand

One way for a team or brand to differentiate itself is to have a dedicated online community that can be controlled and managed directly by the brand. Sure, most brands have a Facebook page, but as more and more brands are learning, Facebook has its limitations, especially when it comes to having direct access to all of your community members. Yes, the Maple Leafs have a great Facebook page with over 1.3 million “likes,” but that does not mean they really have direct access to all those fans.

The best way for any team, business, brand or celebrity to ensure that they have complete access to their own base of customers and fans is to establish an online community under a domain they control. By creating a dedicated online site for your community, you’re in control and not subject to the whims (and changes in policies and procedures) of a third party with an agenda that may or may not be fully aligned with yours at all times. At a truly dedicated website that you control, the visitors are 100% your visitors. You can have them sign up and log in, and that data is your data, not data owned and controlled by a social network or other company.

Make it Special

Of course, if you want to encourage your customers and fans to set up an account, give you an email address and opt-in to be contacted, you need to offer value as an incentive. The Maple Leafs have done this very well with LeafsNation.club, where you must register and login before you can have access to offers and content that are exclusive to the member community.

Homepage at www.LeafsNation.club for a first time visitor

It is made very clear what the benefits of registering are: “access to exclusive content, special offers, tickets, and contests.” Registering for an account is simple, and offers the easy option to login using Facebook, Twitter or Google. You must sign in to access the site. Unlike visitors to their website at NHL.com, who can browse and poke around anonymously, at LeafsNation.club the team knows who their members are, and has obtained permission to reach out to them directly. These are their true fans, their real community. Every brand has a real community, but not every brand is leveraging a domain and destination they own and control to capture names and build a true community of members. Like the Maple Leafs, every brand should have its own club, under its own control.

Exclusive Downloads at www.LeafsNation.club

Most of the Maple Leafs’ exclusive content is hosted or presented at LeafsNation.club, including episodes of their ongoing web TV series, The Leaf Blueprint. There are also ways for fans to engage directly by entering contests, getting discounts on team merchandise, arrange special experiences at games, and adding their own pictures to the fan gallery.

 

The Fan Gallery at www.LeafsNation.club

Build YOUR Community on YOUR Domain!

By making their own destination they control at LeafsNation.club the hub of all their content and fan activity, the Maple Leafs can leverage their presence at NHL.com and on social networks such as Facebook to drive traffic to the one place they can capture and control their user data, and truly build their community of loyal fans. With that in mind, the Maple Leafs smartly link to LeafsNation.club prominently from NHL.com/MapleLeafs and actively share content from LeafsNation.club on their official Facebook page.

Links to content from LeafsNation.club on Facebook

 

LeafsNation.club link from NHL.com

This drives traffic to LeafsNation.club, where users must be registered to gain access to the content.

Conclusion

Smart brands like the Toronto Maple Leafs recognize the value of building a community behind a memorable domain name that is fully controlled by the brand. By doing so, the Leafs are not leaving themselves at the mercy of the league or Facebook, but rather they are building a direct connection and opt-in marketing relationship with their fans, in exchange for providing them with great content and other benefits that appeal to their core community. This is also a great example of a brand using multiple domain names to represent different aspects of their business. TorontoMapleLeafs.com drives traffic to their official website within NHL.com, while LeafsNation.club drives traffic to their official fan community. Both domains and destinations work together to grow the brand and support a loyal customer base.

About the Author

Jeff Sass

Jeff Sass is .CLUB's Chief Marketing Officer. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sass.

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