If the Cincinnati Cyclones had a motto, it would be “Community First.” The professional minor league hockey team has earned plenty of bragging rights, from its two recent Kelly Cup championships to the fact that the team has made the playoffs every season except three since its inception in 1990. What the Cyclones don’t flaunt is just how much they’re dedicated to helping the community — both fans and locals unaffiliated with hockey in need.
Not many people in Cincinnati talk about the Cyclones on a regular basis; many would rather discuss whether the Reds will win a World Series or which Bengal was recently arrested. Because of their amateur status, the media buzz for the Cyclones is simply not as loud, but it’s this lack of coverage that makes what they do off the ice that much better: The organization is much more concerned with the fans and community than other professional sports teams might be.
For starters, what professional sports team in the area offers $1 promotion games? Dollar beer and food nights and regular giveaways allow fans to fill up on drinks, grub and souvenirs for roughly the same price as one beer at a Bengals game.
Nick Brunker, the Cyclones’ director of public relations, says these special nights are meant to draw fans in — and it’s working. The fanbase for the Cyclones continues to grow, he says, and this can be attributed to the winning seasons as much as the specialty nights and other organization-sponsored events.
“[The Cyclones’] product is entertainment and fun,” Brunker says.
“We want our fans to get more bang for their buck,” he says.
The Cyclones also take part in a number of charity events at their home rink at the U.S. Bank Arena.
Specialty jersey nights are a win for fans and local charities. Throughout the season, the Cyclones host various themed nights with jerseys to match and then auction them off after the game, with the proceeds benefitting an array of charities. The team has participated in this promotion for a couple of seasons and this February features Super Hero/Military Night with specialty jerseys inspired by comic book hero Captain America. Proceeds from the auction go to the Armed Forces Tickets Association, a group that gives military members and their families large discounts or free tickets to sporting events, music shows and other entertainment opportunities.
The team is also deeply involved with the Pink Ribbon Girls (PRG), a breast cancer awareness and support group. Not only does the team have a specialty jersey night for the PRG, but they also hold the Power Play 5k Run/Walk each fall with the PRG as the main recipient of the proceeds.
And community involvement is not only carried out by the team as a whole, but also by individual players.
Cyclones forward Mike Embach works with the nonprofit organization Hockey Players 4 Kids (HP4K), which brings professional hockey players together to connect players with the community and help make a positive impact on kids in the area.
One program through HP4K is the Stick to Reading program. Embach says the program is meant to promote reading to young children and to reward them for their efforts.
“The program lasts a couple weeks,” Embach says. “The kids who read the most books and have read the longest get to play a hockey game with the hockey players.”
After the program ends, kids send them thank-you cards and other shows of gratification, making the program rewarding for students and players alike, he adds.
Even fans get in on the giving, with events like the Teddy Bear Toss — a game night that invites spectators to bring in stuffed animals or soft toys and toss them on the ice for a chance to win a prize. The toys are then given to the Cincinnati Police Department to distribute to children who are victims of crime or accidents.
New head coach Ben Simon wants to make sure the team stays involved with the community, too.
“Minor league hockey is a grassroots effort,” Simon says. “That means the community and fans come first.”
THE CYCLONES play the Fort Wayne Komets Saturday at U.S. Bank Arena. That night’s special offer: Kids eat free. For more info, visit cycloneshockey.com.