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Bold branding: Ryan Reaves’ hard-hitting personality makes him marketable

Updated April 12, 2021 - 9:30 am

The initial concept developed by Bronson Mack and his creative team at the Southern Nevada Water Authority was to feature the Golden Knights in a new advertising campaign about watering restrictions.

But they weren’t sure how to best deliver the message to the Las Vegas Valley about changing sprinkler clocks.

And they didn’t know who could make the conservation program resonate with the largely male target audience.

Mack met with advertising agency R&R Partners to collaborate on the pitch, and one player overwhelmingly was recommended for the project.

Ryan Reaves.

Vegas Golden Knights right wing Ryan Reaves (75) poses for a portrait during the NHL teams medi ...
Vegas Golden Knights right wing Ryan Reaves (75) poses for a portrait during the NHL teams media day at City National Arena Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Review-Journal file)

“He has that hockey enforcer element to him. And there is an enforcement aspect to following these watering restrictions,” said Mack, the outreach manager for SNWA.

“But the thing that really brought it all home is just Ryan Reaves himself.

“There is that friendliness, that warmness to him that really does allow him to deliver that enforcing message to the community, but then also do it Ryan Reaves style and give that smile at the end that sells the tongue-in-cheek approach to the entire act.”

Now in his 11th season, Reaves’ rugged playing style and gregarious personality make him the NHL’s most widely recognized fourth-line player. He showed it again in Sunday’s game and avoided a suspension from the league.

Reaves, 34, is featured alongside stars such as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews on the league’s social media accounts, and his quick wit makes him a regular interview guest on “Hockey Night in Canada” and other shows.

Along with being the unofficial heavyweight champion and leading the league in hits each of the past two seasons, Reaves fights for increased diversity in the sport and also co-founded his own beer company.

All this from a right winger who never has reached double digits in goals, never topped the league in penalty minutes and whose fame is inversely proportional to his ice time.

“To what it’s become now, he started from a deficit position because he would have been seen as a fourth-line tough guy,” said award-winning Canadian sports broadcaster Scott Oake. “Basically what I think has happened is he’s taken the platform that guys who do his job have and he’s expanded it into becoming a very popular, charismatic player.”

Sudden stardom

Reaves was a fan favorite during his seven seasons in St. Louis because of his reputation as a formidable fighter. He was voted by his peers as the NHL’s toughest player during a 2017-18 poll.

But most of Reaves’ endorsement deals were with local restaurants or bars that named a meal or a drink after him.

There is that friendliness, that warmness to him that really does allow him to deliver that enforcing message to the community, but then also do it Ryan Reaves style and give that smile at the end that sells the tongue-in-cheek approach to the entire act.

Bronson Mack

It wasn’t until Reaves was acquired by two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh in 2017 to be Sidney Crosby’s bodyguard that his stardom started to grow.

After a November game in Vancouver that was broadcast on “Hockey Night in Canada,” Reaves appeared with Oake on the postgame “After Hours” show.

Reaves grew up across the street from the Oakes in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and remains close to the family. He helped raise money for the nearly completed Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, a long-term treatment facility in Winnipeg named after Oake’s late son and Reaves’ close friend who died of a drug overdose in 2011.

That close relationship made for a memorable TV interview, with the audience in Canada getting an extended look at Reaves’ sense of humor.

During the segment, Reaves wore a “Phil Kessel Thriller” T-shirt featuring his Penguins teammate’s head photoshopped over Michael Jackson’s from the famous album cover.

The image spread on social media and remains a classic hockey meme.

“When you see a fun interaction like that, and maybe a behind-the-scenes story about how me and Scotty know each other and a couple of jokes and me rubbing his head, yeah, I think fans like that stuff,” Reaves said. “I think people enjoy hearing fresh takes on things or something funny once in a while coming from a hockey player.”

The Knights traded for Reaves in February 2018, and while local fans were slow to accept the move, his celebrity exploded that postseason.

His between-period interviews with Oake during the Western Conference Final against Winnipeg were can’t-miss TV, and Reaves scored the winning goal in Game 5 to send the Knights to the Stanley Cup Final.

“The way I measure it is, those are probably the ones that get the most reactions, more so than almost any others,” Oake said of his interviews with Reaves.

Building the brand

Reaves re-signed with the Knights in 2018 and backed up the additional publicity he received with career highs in goals, assists and points the following season.

Golden Knights right wing Ryan Reaves (75) fights with San Jose Sharks left wing Evander Kane ( ...
Golden Knights right wing Ryan Reaves (75) fights with San Jose Sharks left wing Evander Kane (9) during the third period of Game 3 of an NHL Western Conference quarterfinal series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Sunday, April 14, 2019. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

Fans at T-Mobile Arena shouted Reaves’ name every time he lined up a hit, and his rivalry with San Jose’s Evander Kane found a national stage in the playoffs.

“Ryan’s a big personality. I would say to him he’s a bigger personality than I would like him to be some days,” said Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who also coached Reaves in junior hockey. “He’s carved out a real fan base in the city. He’s engaging, he’s loud, he’s all of those things. But he’s also a really respected player in our dressing room. He’s a man of high integrity. He’s a good teammate.”

Reaves became recognizable enough to win an NHL Fan Choice Award in 2019 for best hidden talent (human goal siren).

He was voted the third-best trash-talker in the NHL Players’ Association poll the past two years and is genuinely upset he didn’t finish higher. Last season, he was nominated as one of the league’s funniest players.

“Lots of his stuff isn’t PG,” defenseman Nick Holden said.

Since SNWA’s campaign was launched in April 2019 with the hard-hitting Reaves dishing out “reality checks” to water wasters, Mack said there’s been a 40 percent increase in customers’ ability to identify the right number of watering days for the fall season. The number of people who can identify Sunday as the one prohibited watering day is up more than 20 percent.

“We started seeing people showing up at Knights games holding up signs, specifically when we played the Sharks, that said things like, ‘Evander Kane lets his water run out of his garden hose,’” Mack said. “That to us was like, ‘Boom!’ That’s the connection that we’re looking for.”

The extra attention has opened several doors for Reaves. He appeared on an episode of “Bar Rescue” and also presided over a local couple’s wedding before the start of the 2019-20 season.

Reaves’ pride and joy is 7Five Brewing Co., which he co-founded in 2018 with Adam Coates, his longtime friend and business partner.

A glass of Vegas Golden Knights player Ryan Reaves' new beer, Training Day, sits on a table at ...
A glass of Vegas Golden Knights player Ryan Reaves' new beer, Training Day, sits on a table at a party for the release of the beer at PKWY Tavern Flamingo in Las Vegas, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal

During his career in St. Louis, Reaves produced a beer called the Grim Reaver Red IPA with a local brewer, and it remained a bestseller after he was traded to Pittsburgh.

When Reaves arrived in Las Vegas, he saw a budding local craft beer scene and wanted to get in on the ground floor. His company collaborated with local Able Baker Brewing to release four beers, and 7Five Brewing Co. also joined forces with MGM Resorts for the exclusive Showtime Blonde Ale.

“Every time I’m with him in Vegas, there’s never a time when he doesn’t stop with a fan to take a picture,” Coates said. “He’s so relatable, and he’s got such a great story of nothing was really given to him and everything was earned.”

Looking ahead

Last summer, Reaves was a leading voice of NHL players during protests against racism.

He took a knee alongside teammate Robin Lehner and two Dallas Stars players during the American and Canadian anthems before a postseason game Aug. 3.

When NHL players joined athletes from other leagues and decided not to play after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Reaves was one of five players on a videoconference call to discuss the players’ decision.

“He was very eloquent and showed some great leadership skills,” Oake said. “I was very proud of him.”

Reaves knew his protest would attract fans and alienate others, but never worried about the impact on his popularity. His only concern was how Knights owner Bill Foley, a graduate of West Point, would react.

“I didn’t want to offend Bill and ruin that relationship with him,” Reaves said. “I had a very good conversation with him before it went down, and I felt comfortable. It was just important to do.”

Golden Knights' Ryan Reaves signs autographs on the gold carpet after arriving for the NHL seas ...
Golden Knights' Ryan Reaves signs autographs on the gold carpet after arriving for the NHL season-opening hockey game against the San Jose Sharks at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

Reaves signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract in the offseason and provides the Knights an intimidating on-ice presence.

He picked up an assist in Wednesday’s loss against St. Louis to register the 100th point of his NHL career and remains one of the team’s most vocal players.

“You need guys like that in the room … particularly in a long season where the days and the road trips get old really quickly,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “That energy those guys bring is invaluable to our group.”

Reaves hopes to play five more seasons. He said he’s never sustained a concussion despite his physical style of play.

He and his wife, Alanna, recently built a house in Las Vegas, and Reaves has plans to continue growing his beer company.

Reaves’ personality would make him a natural on camera when his career is done, and he once finished third in an NHLPA poll asking who would make the best TV analyst. Coaching or management are possibilities, too.

“The only way I get all these opportunities is by playing for the Vegas Golden Knights,” Reaves said. “If my product on the ice isn’t performing up to management or ownership’s standards, all those opportunities disappear. I want to jump on every opportunity that’s going to grow my brand. But the No. 1 brand is Ryan Reaves the hockey player.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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