Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, October 01, 2021

to market, to market
My perpetual beef with the National Hockey League has been its largely inept marketing efforts over the years. Generally, the league’s been content to preach to the choir in its promotions, as though the hardcore fanbase somehow needs constant reassurance; meanwhile, the larger pool of casual and other-sport fans are addressed only incidentally, if at all. And somehow, the NHL can’t figure out why it can’t grow the sport.

And yet, I’ve sensed the stirrings of something at the start of this 2007-08 season (which started this past weekend with a couple of overseas games in London between the Kings and Ducks, which yes, I did follow/watch). Combined with some of the negative press the other Big Three leagues got this past summer, the NHL seems to be poised for a gain in popularity. But as a rabid hockey fan, I’m too biased to get an objective read.

Still, after reading an interview with John Collins, the league’s newly-installed Senior Vice President of Business and Media, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Heck, I’m ecstatic! Because Collins is frank enough to make statements like this:

We have 22 million people at our arenas every year. We have 53 million avid fans in North America. But the big insight we came to after the lockout is that our fans say they love hockey, but they don’t behave like they love hockey. They behave like a million fans of the New York Rangers, a million fans of the Chicago Blackhawks. The passion they have is at a local level, but that doesn’t translate to passion at a league level. If you are a fan of the NFL’s New York Giants, you’ll still watch Monday Night Football even if the Giants aren’t playing. You’ll watch the playoffs and Super Bowl even if the Giants don’t make it. But according to the traditional metrics that tell you about the health and vitality of broadcast ratings, we’re not able to scale at the national level of the NFL, MLB or Nascar. So we don’t feel like a $2.3 billion business; we feel like a $300 million business, like a niche sport like Major League Soccer or AVP [professional volleyball].

Amen. Collins goes on to state that using the existing local fan infrastructure to build a broader, national halo-effect popularity is the going-forward strategy. I question that approach, but at least he’s grounding himself in a realistic assessment of the present situation.

He goes on with a particularly intriguing vision for how to package the NHL experience, ala an NFL Films ambience:

The key is about being authentic. Slowing the game down and celebrating the smaller moments is a real key to some of the things we are trying to do. As a comparison, I started in the NFL at NFL Films, and they have done a phenomenal job of slowing the game down so you see what happens at the line of scrimmage, you can look into the eyes of someone like [former all-pro linebacker] Mike Singletary. It’s getting fans a different view of the sport. The NHL’s greatest strength is speed, and sometimes that is used as its greatest weakness and the game is often accused of being too fast for television. So we took this opportunity to slow the game down. Like the face-off. We’re looking at it in a way that’s never been seen before.

Again, I’m liking what I’m hearing. Purists be damned, because it’s really all in the presentation. If the viewing experience doesn’t resonate for the viewer, s/he isn’t going to stick with the game. If a bit of fancied-up camera angles forges a connection with those potential fans, then bring it on.

Finally, Collins presents a smartly synergistic vision of selling the game on TV:

We want to bring Crosby or Ovechkin to Los Angeles or New York every night. Right now, if you go a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden, you’ll get a fantastic Rangers experience. What you won’t get are the in-game highlights of other games in progress. So we developing an in-arena highlight program. And with our broadcast partners at the regional networks, you’re not getting bumped up into a total league experience. So if you watch local telecasts, you’re not seeing in-game highlights of other action around the league. You’re not getting bumped into fantasy hockey the way you would with the NFL where you’re constantly getting hit with highlights from around the league, fantasy stats, NFL.com. But we are beginning to change that.

All this is making me think that finally, finally, the NHL has a marketing mind in place who gets it: Understands that you have to extend the reach, rely on more than just the on-ice action to sell the game, and proactively offer avenues of engagement with sports fans (and non-fans).

Collins’ ideas are by no means a slam-dunk; ultimately, sports entertainment consumers have to be receptive to a sport that’s got a lot of same-old baggage. But it certainly feels like a window of opportunity is open, and that Collins knows what do to with that opening. Here’s hoping.

Also, incidentally: This same interview reveals a solid date for a much-awaited opening:

On Oct. 9, the league will hold a fanfest in New York to celebrate the Oct. 12 opening of its flagship retail store, NHL Powered by Reebok, and its new corporate offices.

I know where I’ll be next week!

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/01/2021 10:23:24 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Hockey
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  1. NHL NETWORK COMES TO AMERICA…

    I’m very happy to say I’m watching the NHL Network right now at home, on my television. No tricks, place-shifting, online streams or anything like that. It’s coming right through my cable box. I have Time Warner cable in Manhattan.

    The Hollywo…

    Trackback by The Ice Block — 10/02/2021 @ 11:37:57 PM

  2. KEYS TO THE NYC NHL STORE…

    Contrary to prior reports, there won’t be any National Hockey League fanfest in New York City tomorrow.
    However, the league’s flagship merchandising outlet, NHL Powered by Reebok, is set for a grand opening this Friday, October 12 at midda…

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 10/08/2021 @ 10:51:40 PM

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