NHL Hopes Its Cup Runneth Over
Marketing efforts tied to playoffs, efforts with TV partners
By Jon Lafayette -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/26/2012 12:01:00 AM
You’re launching a new Stanley Cup marketing campaign. In the past you’ve focused mostly on avid fans, but now you seem to be focusing on getting more casual fans involved.
There’s always been a push to get the 40 million hockey fans in the U.S. to tune in even though their favorite team may not be in the playoffs, because it is the best hockey all year. But our new relationship with NBCUniversal and the fact that every game is going to be nationally televised for the first time, plus new partnerships with people like Coors Light here in the U.S., are all designed to push the Stanley Cup message out to a broader audience. For the first time in some time, particularly in the early rounds, we’re going to have the ability to reach beyond that core hockey fan and attract casual fans to the playoffs.
Getting viewers to tune in is a great way to sell the game. How does having the games on TV compare to the rest of the marketing effort?
We look at the Stanley Cup playoffs as a significant platform for us, for our fans and for our partners. There is an opportunity to build up almost a March Madness-type feel for the Stanley Cup playoffs. But there are a lot of other components to this. We’ve always been very aggressive in social media, digital media.
This campaign is a collaboration with your TV partners. How are the ads shaped by that collaboration?
The networks look to the league to take the point on identifying what it wants to do, what the tone is and what the core message is. This year we worked very closely with the Coors Light advertising agency, FCB Draft, which was a change for us. Coors was spending so much marketing and promotion dollars behind the campaign that we really wanted to be in lockstep with them. We also think the whole opportunity around creating a social connection among fans toward the Stanley Cup is like the objectives of good beer advertising. It’s about getting together and having a good time. And that’s where we think the Stanley Cup is today.
Are the ads only running on NBC and the networks that NBC owns?
Right now they’re airing on all our national TV platforms. They’re running on all the regional or local platforms during every NHL game that’s being played from now until the start of the playoffs. Parts of the campaign will be distributed online through digital media. We have a pretty aggressive syndication effort. And a lot of our retailers are planning pretty aggressive promotions around the playoffs. Dick’s [Sporting Goods] will be playing the Stanley Cup commercials in their stores. The Coors Light guys are taking it to more than 4,000 bars around the U.S. and 2,500 in Canada. They’ll have Stanley Cup material, they’ll have beer taps, and the spots will air there as well. I think it’s the biggest marketing push we’ve ever had for the Stanley Cup, at least since I’ve been here.
Are you using any other media?
Yes. We have radio time in each one of the telecasts, we have strategic relationships with people like USA Today and hockey [publications] to get the message out. Again, we’re going to use Facebook and YouTube to be a big promoter of it. We have special video content planned for both of those outlets.
What's the NHL Network's role in the league's marketing efforts?
The NHL Network, which was launched four years ago and now is in 43 million homes, really is a destination point for hockey fans in the U.S. It's the one place you can go to find out exactly what happened last night in the NHL and what's going to happen tonight in the NHL. For example, we launched a show a couple of months ago called NHL Tonight, which is basically a 60 minute SportsCenter, but just for hockey, the hockey highlights not being as easy to find as they should be. Now the NHL network provides a home 24/7 for hockey fans to get their fill of the NHL, the story lines, and see all the highlights. It will also carry games in the first and probably second round, which will continue to drive and condition people to go to the NHL Network.
Is it also generating content for digital marketing?
Absolutely. We centralized all our content production a year ago. So, everything from producing games to producing studio shows, producing highlight shows. I was at NFL Films for 15 years of my career. They've done a great job of taking you behind the scenes and getting you access and we've started to do a lot of that at the NHL with this series on HBO called 24/7 around the Winter Classic, which was a huge success, not only with hockey fans, but sports fans generally. And we followed that up with a production called NHL 36, which is basically 36 hours in the life of one of the star players. It runs on NBC here in the U.S. and it's produced by the NHL Network. We plan to do more of that.
Once we get past the Stanley Cup, what kind of year-round marketing efforts does the league have?
Well, we have two big pillars that we build on. One is big events, which tries to create these great time periods that we focus all our resources on, our marketing and promotional resources against. But we also create a path for partners, corporate marketers, licensees, retailers and our networks to get behind. So, coming out of the Stanley Cup playoffs we roll right into our year-end award show, which we do out in Vegas, and we honor our best players in a season-ending celebration. And then two days after that, we roll right into the draft, which is sort of the official beginning of our next season.
You mentioned social media, but are there other forms of technology that are part of your marketing tool kit?
Sure. I'm out in San Francisco right now with one of our owners, Kevin Compton, who owns the San Jose Sharks. He's a venture capitalist and he set up a meeting for us out here to show us companies that are on the forefront of technology and where media's going to go in the next five years. The NHL fan base is a little younger, a little more tech savvy, a little more affluent than the average sports fan, so you get the cream of that crop. Maybe that's because hockey traditionally hasn't been as readily available as other sports in terms of being served on TV. So, our fans have had to use technology and go online to find what they want about the sport. It's been a huge driver of the league's business success and it's really been a unique opportunity for us to build national scale to show people that the NHL business opportunity is more than a collection of regional teams, regional businesses, but also has a pretty significant halo over the top of it, which is representative of a $3 billion business.
So tell me about a cool piece of technology that you saw that might be useful in your marketing efforts sometime in the near future?
Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook reached out. We're a pretty good partner with Facebook and Sheryl had a bit of counsel for the commissioner. In thinking about the Stanley Cup and how to promote it, she suggested that the Stanley Cup itself should have a page on Facebook, so we're in the process of launching that. It will be up before the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Stanley Cup itself has its own brand; it has its own lore. It has its own legend. It has in terms of brand equity among sports fans, not just among hockey fans, it has the most equity of really any of the championship sports. It's right up there with the Super Bowl, it's right up there with the World Series, it's right up there with the Olympics. And so Sheryl's point was: give it its page, let people connect directly with it.
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette
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