For most brand-new sports teams, developing a fan base in an unfamiliar city can be an intimidating task. So, when the Greg Odde founded the Aberdeen Wings, there was quite a bit of uncertainty about how the community of Aberdeen, South Dakota was going to welcome the team.
“In a town of just under 30,000 people, we were unsure of how we would draw with the community,” said Pete Sauer, General Manager of the Aberdeen Wings.
It had taken about a year to go from having the idea for a hockey team to dropping the first puck. Considering the tight knit feel of the city, Greg and Pete knew that the players were not only going to have to play the role of sports professionals, but also as role models.
“One of the very first things we discussed was how we wanted these guys to be role models in the community and that is still true today,” said Pete.
The team’s owner, Greg Odde, is a hometown guy and he plays a very hands-on role when it comes to the team, which is not always the case in professional sports.
“We have a small team but big heart,” said Pete.
The Aberdeen Wings have a way of blending in with the town and respond to the immediate needs of the community. Pete likens their approach as being on the frontlines, wherever the greatest need is.
“We don’t necessarily attach our name to a large charitable organization, much of what we do is behind the scenes,” said Pete.
The players serve as role models to many children in Aberdeen and the players take that role seriously. In addition to visiting the schools to encourage kids to keep up with their studies, the players will invite students to stay active by skating at the rink after a practice.
The players make appearances at the local grade schools and hospitals but some of the most impactful instances are when the players make it personal.
For example, the players make the effort even in their own time to visit members of the community that are going through tough times.
After learning that one of their younger fans had gone through a serious surgical operation, a group of the players made sure to be there when the young fan woke up from surgery.
“This was even after the season was over and many of the players had already flown back home for the off-season. This was not coached, the players did this on their own,” said Pete.
The players also have a special attachment to the South Dakota School of the Blind. The Aberdeen Wings have been visiting the school for years and always make sure to support the school in whichever way they can.
The Aberdeen Wings have one of the largest fan bases in their division, and after learning about their style of community engagement, it’s not difficult to understand why. The community supports the team in a remarkable fashion and makes every effort to commit, especially when tragedy befalls the players.
When a couple former players were touched by cancer, they were invited back to Aberdeen for a special event. In an effort to raise funds for their treatment, a hockey helmet was passed around the arena to collect cash donations. By the end of the night, nearly $10,000 was raised for each former player to aid in their medical expenses.
“I truly believe our fan base is built one fan at a time. We’re in a small town so the support we receive is unbelievable,” said Pete.
The Aberdeen Wings and their fans believe in the mantra “Once a Wing, Always a Wing” so there is no hesitation in coming together for the good of one of the team’s former players.
The Aberdeen Wings play a heartwarming benefit game every single year for a local organization. The team raises funds by auctioning off unique jerseys made specially for the organization being honored. Aberdeen’s local National Guard, YMCA and Humane Society have benefitted from participating in these games. For the National Guard game, the funds raised went to local families who had a relative on deployment, Year one was for your local National Guard post.
‘We do some very big numbers for these games due to generosity of our fan base,” said Pete.