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Activate ‘22: What Brands Can Learn From the Buffalo Sabres Fanbase

Written by Alida

Published June 21, 2022

No matter what industry you’re in, you can learn something from sports teams’ fanbases.

That’s because franchises like the Buffalo Sabres—a professional ice hockey team based in Buffalo, New York—know just how to get fans excited before, during, and after a game. Ever since joining the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1970, the Sabres have become a staple of Buffalo culture and a leader in unforgettable fan experiences.

Here’s a look at what companies like yours can learn from this NHL team and its loyal followers.


What does the fan lifecycle look like for the Buffalo Sabres?

Sports fans don’t follow the traditional customer journey. Instead, they’re often lifelong members of their team’s fanbase, and the franchise becomes part of their lifestyle in ways rarely achieved by brands in other industries. Here’s what that looks like for the Buffalo Sabres:


Experiences are diverse

Some people say that when you’re born in Buffalo, you’re bred into the sports fandom. The Sabres are part of your DNA.

That means there’s no single type of person who becomes a fan. The team’s followers come from all walks of life and engage with games, players, and other fans in many different ways. For example, some Sabres enthusiasts are always in the stadium, proudly wearing their team merchandise, while others watch broadcasts from home. No matter who a fan is or where they are, the Sabres represent “the heartbeat of Buffalo.”


Fans are at the forefront

In other industries, products and services drive customer relationships. In some ways, the same is true for sports teams, especially when it comes to jerseys and other branded merchandise. However, franchises like the Sabres introduce a new variable to the relationship: excitement. It’s the anticipation of an upcoming game, the thrill of the competition, the enthusiasm of cheering for a hometown team—and it’s a huge part of what makes sports fanbases feel special.

Excitement is almost impossible to create artificially. Instead, it’s a product of putting fans at the forefront, encouraging their interactions, and allowing them to experience the Sabres in their own unique ways.


Conversations are a must

To keep fans at the forefront and encourage them to stay excited, the Sabres’ marketing team knows it’s important to have constant conversations. They keep the door open so they can always find out things like:

  • What fans are saying about the team
  • How fans are interacting with one another
  • Which parts of the fan experience are most important
  • Where the team could improve its fan relationships

Because the Sabres fanbase is so big and diverse, the marketing team uses research software to enable these conversations. 


RJ Night: Extending the fan experience

For an example of what it means to be a Buffalo Sabres fan, look no further than “RJ Night.” This celebration honored an important member of the team and a vital contributor to the fan experience: Rick Jeanneret, the play-by-play announcer who called the Sabres’ games for 51 years. A banner bearing Rick’s name was placed in the rafters of KeyBank Center, where it will live alongside the names of other dedicated Sabres team members. 


The key moment in RJ Night

While this was an incredible moment, it wasn’t the only highlight of the night. In preparation for the event, Sabres enthusiasts got the chance to answer a survey where they were asked what they’d like to say to Rick—and the response was overwhelming. Thank-you notes, letters, memories, and other comments were put on cards and posted all over Rick’s booth on his last day, creating a valuable and emotional moment for both Rick and the Sabres fanbase.


What brands can learn

For brands like yours, there’s one big takeaway from what the Buffalo Sabres have achieved: The best relationships are built on authentic connections.


How do the Sabres do it?

For the Sabres, this begins by having common ground, like the hometown feel of the team all Buffalo natives love. That creates an enthusiastic, engaged community. The Sabres’ marketing team learns from that community by listening in, starting conversations, and responding to the real feelings of real sports enthusiasts. This enables them to extend the fan experience with events like RJ Night, which responded to the community’s affection for Rick and turned this emotional moment into a connection with the franchise.


Take a page out of the Sabres’ book

Want to turn your own customers into fans? You just have to know how to listen. Alida’s customer experience solutions can help you build a community, gather insights, and generate excitement the same way the Buffalo Sabres team does.


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