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Canuck merchandise is as rare as a Cup goal these days

An employee at the Vancouver Canucks store unpacks merchandise at Rogers Arena Friday, May 27, 2011. Marketing is about connecting people to products and services, and one marketing analyst says when it comes to marketing its products, the Vancouver Canucks get it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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An employee at the Vancouver Canucks store unpacks merchandise at Rogers Arena Friday, May 27, 2011. Marketing is about connecting people to products and services, and one marketing analyst says when it comes to marketing its products, the Vancouver Canucks get it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER - Saba Raeis trooped for several kilometres over three days this week, pushing a baby stroller, meeting with frequent disappointment at a quest unfulfilled.

Her mission: An official, medium-sized Canucks jersey for Father's Day.

"There is no medium in town," said a frustrated Raeis.

"They sold out."

What Raeis experienced is the result of one of the most successful marketing efforts in professional sports, helped along by an incredible Canucks playoff run.

Marketing is about connecting people to products and services, and one marketing analyst says when it comes to marketing its products, the Vancouver Canucks get it.

Tim Silk, an assistant professor of marketing at UBC's Sauder School of Business, said the Canucks have engaged the community with a catchy slogan—"We are all Canucks"—a good app for smartphones and a good website, all amounting to what Silk describes as one of the best social-media platforms in professional sports.

The team also sponsors Canuck Place, a well-regarded children's hospice that is frequently visited by players.

"Honestly, they really do engage the community like no other team I've seen," said Silk.

Engagement has had some real economic spinoffs, and Silk pointed to the 2010 ranking by Forbes magazine of the NHL's most valuable teams.

According to the magazine, the Canucks generated $119 million in revenue and recorded an operating income of $17.6 million in the 2009-2010 season.

Those figures helped the Canucks place eighth in overall value behind Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks.

Silk said that's significant because Vancouver is not one of the 10 largest NHL markets.

"They're punching above their weight," he said. "In other words, given the market they're in, they make more out of that market than other teams. So that's just a fact."

Brian Cooper, a sports marketer and chief executive officer of S and E Sponsorship Group, said as successful as Vancouver has been, it still ranks behind Toronto and Montreal.

Those cities, he said, are just so much larger, noting Toronto has four professional teams, three to four venues, and its infrastructure is three to four times the size.

Then again, "they don't have winning to help them."

Cooper called the Canucks' marketing efforts sophisticated and credited the team's run through the Stanley Cup playoffs as a factor.

"It's an exponential accelerator to all of their sponsorships, their merchandise sales, their ticket pricing, their broadcast revenue," said Cooper. "When you're winning, there's an exponential accelerator you have to take advantage of."

Brian Jennings, executive vice-president of marketing for the NHL, agrees, saying there is a direct correlation between a playoff berth and merchandise sales.

At the start of the playoffs, he said, demand for Canucks' merchandise rose 30 per cent, with online demand rising by 60 per cent.

At the start of the Stanley Cup final, he added, demand for Canucks merchandise rose 65 per cent, and demand for Canucks merchandise online rose 116 per cent.

The sales, he said, show the Canucks' marketing efforts are working.

"I give incredibly high marks to the Vancouver Canucks organization top to bottom," he said. "They've got good people. They're passionate, obviously. They understand their market quite well."

Back in downtown Vancouver, Suki Sadhre, owner of Van City Sports, knows first hand that the Canucks have connected with the community.

Team T-shirts, hats and jerseys have been flying off the shelves and on some game days during the Stanley Cup final, customers have even lined up at the door just to get inside.

"Our sales have been up incredible amounts, over 200, 300, 400 per cent, a lot more than what our regular season would be," said Sadhre. "It's been very busy playoffs for us, definitely."

That means on an average day, said Sadhre, the store is selling between 500 and 600 pieces of Canucks merchandise.

He said the demand for hockey jerseys has been so great, the store has few left in stock.

That's bad news for people like Raeis.

"It's just fan support," said Sadhre.

"People want to be part of it, and they go to pubs, and watch it with friends on the street, or they get together at family, friends' houses, and they just want to support the team and show the colours."

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