Hockey Marketing in a Different World

In 1972, Greg Barna graduated with a degree from Cleveland State University. He only had to walk a few blocks to the Cleveland Arena in order to find a job in the sport he loved, hockey.

That’s the good news. The challenge was working in sales and marketing for a team that had just opened for business, the WHA Cleveland Crusaders. Try selling season tickets to prospects that had never heard of the team or league.

Credit the WHA for having the energy and brashness to battle the NHL. However, both the WHA and NHL lacked the marketing opportunities enjoyed by today’s National Hockey League teams. As Greg Barna put it, “our marketing was primitive. In the early 1970′s we didn’t have the Internet.

Most promotions were sent out “via mailings.” If given the chance, today’s NHL teams would sell advertising placement within every inch of their arena. During the early 1970′s, hockey teams never thought of selling dasher board advertising. And speaking of primitive, the Cleveland Arena never used dasher board protective plexiglass. They used chicken wire!

Credit Crusaders owner, Nick Mileti for hiring Barna. Most importantly, applaud Mileti for being one of the most important figures in Cleveland sports history. Besides running the Crusaders, Mileti owned the Cleveland Cavs, Indians, as well as 50,000 watt radio powerhouse, WWWE. Hockey fans throughout North America were able to tune in to hear Crusader play by play coverage, as well as talk shows promoting the Crusader’s brand of hockey.

Crusaders hockey was exciting; featuring a talented mix of former NHL’ers and minor leaguers… all wanting to prove to the hockey world that the WHA was just as good as the NHL brand. The defense was solid with Gerry Cheevers in net and Paul Shmyr on defense.

As Barna put it, “the team was made up of great guys with the same goal…prove that they belonged in major league hockey. They were great to be with. Although, Gerry Cheevers’ mood would sour if he had a bad day at “the track.”

For many reasons, you could call Barna a WHA hockey pioneer. His sales and marketing work was important to the growth of the Crusaders. In 1999, Barna joined fellow pioneers at the WHA Reunion held at Casino Windsor.

As Barna said, “it was great seeing the guys again. To a man, they all agreed that playing in the WHA was alot of fun. If they could do it all over, they would all return to the WHA.” So would Greg Barna.


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