Pro hockey has been knocking around Cincinnati for nearly a quarter of a century. Yet somehow, the Cincinnati Cyclones are still regarded as the new kids on the block, a team that is neither as highly regarded nor as widely loved as the big guys—The Reds and The Bengals.

It’s true that back in the early days, the ownership seemed to change regularly. And press coverage was skimpy. And that almost no one understood the game. Remember, Cincinnati’s geography meant that relatively few people who grew up here experienced much hockey when they were growing up.

But somehow, the Cyclones have survived. Actually, if you stop for a moment and consider what the team has accomplished since it was founded in 1990, “thrived” might be a more accurate word.

Unlike those aforementioned big guys, the Cyclones have won two championships in the past six years. And they went to the finals a third time.

The ownership today is stable and well-connected. Nederlander Entertainment, which has owned the team for several years, also owns and manages the Cyclones’ home, U.S. Bank Arena. On top of that, the team is now in the business of developing up-and-coming players for a pair of NHL teams—the Nashville Predators and the Florida Panthers—meaning that the quality of play is at a higher level than at any time in the organization’s history.

Most compelling is that that the average attendance has climbed by more than 215 percent in the past eight years.

“It’s been a good run,” says Nick Brunker. It’s an atypical display of understatement from the guy who is not only director of PR/broadcasting for the Cyclones, but also the team’s on-air voice.

But in a town where people don’t really know that much about the game—the team’s website includes a primer on rules, terms and referee hand-signals—the nearly uninterrupted climb in attendance is as much a result of savvy marketing and clever promotions as it is on-ice prowess.

Remember, “Entertainment” is the owner’s last name.

No matter what your demographic, the Cyclones seem to have a promotion aimed squarely at you. Repeat customers are easier to coax into the building. So the Cyclones focus an enormous amount of their energy on encouraging people to walk through the doors for the very first time. And once they’re inside, they make sure patrons have nonstop fun.

“We have no control over what happens on the ice,” says Sean Lynn, director of marketing and PR. “What we can control are all the other entertainment channels in the building. We control intermission activities and things that go on during stoppages in play. Our goal is to make sure that everyone who’s here is entertained. All the time.”

Nowhere have they been more proficient, though, than in selling to families.

“There is no better family value than the Cyclones,” says Brunker. It’s a sentiment you see repeated in nearly every promotional communication the Cyclones generate. And there is some truth to the line. Tickets cost as little as $15. A four-ticket family pack—4 tickets and 4 t-shirts—will set you back just $72.

“Add hot dogs and drinks and you can still take a family of four for $100 or less,” says Lynn. Even a trip to the movies—presuming you can find one the whole family wants to see—is likely to cost nearly as much.

The heart of the fun is the near-constant barrage of promotions. They’re populist, they’re mainstream and they are, on occasion, very clever. November focused on movies and TV. There was Frozen night, Star Wars night, The Simpsons night and, best of all, Dumb and Dumber night.

Now, with the weather turning cooler, they’ve turned their attention to beer, warm clothes and the holiday season:

• Nov. 26 - $1 Beer & Movember Night

• Dec. 3 - $1 Beer & Salute to Robin 
Williams Night

• Dec. 5 – Kids T-shirt Night

• Dec. 6 – Winter Hat Night

• Dec. 17 - $1 Beer & Santa-Con Night

• Dec. 19 – Cyclones Ornament Night

• Dec. 20 – Ugly Sweater Night & 
Postgame skate

• Dec. 29 – Kids Eat Free Night

Hockey purists abhor these promotions. The team even had on-ice dog races a few years ago. But they are bringing more and more people in the doors.

They host school field trips, recognize scout groups at games and, last month, hosted an Education in Hockey Day. The daylong outing includes a special 10:30 a.m. Cyclones game along with lessons in geography, science, nutrition and math—all using hockey as the learning platform, of course.

“The event drew more than 7,500 kids last year,” says Lynn.

And for kids older than 21, they’ve developed a full schedule of pre-game tasting activities: Pucks & Pinot, Pucks & Pints and the wildly popular Bourbon Tastings.

Clearly, Cyclones hockey has matured more than a little since the rough-and-tumble days of 1995, when coach Don Jackson leapt over the glass and punched out Sir Slapshot, the mascot of the Atlanta Knights.

“Pretty much everything is new since then,” says Lynn, who has been with the team for 11 seasons. There’s a goetta reuben and Skyline nachos served in a mini-version of a hockey helmet. And plenty of craft beers. “But the biggest changes, I guess, are the logo and the branding.”

If image means anything at all, the Cyclones—with the help of Cincinnati branding mega-power LPK—have firmly planted themselves in the big-time. One glance at the replica jerseys they’re peddling for $120 and you can see it; there’s nothing minor league about it. This jersey, with its brash colors and snappy graphic looking down into the eye of a tornado, is definitely big league. This is more like the uniforms you’re accustomed to seeing in the so-called three-letter leagues—MLB, NFL and, of course, the NHL.

“What we’re selling is more than the game,” says Lynn. “We’re selling fan engagement. We don’t want there to be any lulls, from the time the puck drops to the end of the evening. We want people engaged. And we want them to want to come back.”