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NHL Hopes Its Cup Runneth Over

Marketing efforts tied to playoffs, efforts with TV partners 3/26/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

At a Glance: National Hockey League

Based in: New York

Founded: 1917

2011 Revenue: $3 billion

The Stanley Cup playoffs are coming up, and
the National Hockey League is using the history-filled
event as the basis of a marketing campaign aimed at
luring both avid and casual fans to the game. As chief operating
officer, John Collins’ responsibilities
include marketing and media for the NHL,
which has been riding a successful fiveyear
wave that has seen national revenue
jump 150% and total revenue rise 40%.
Collins spoke with B&C business editor
Jon Lafayette about the league’s marketing
plans and TV’s role in them, especially now
that, thanks to a deal with NBCUniversal,
all playoff games will be on national TV.

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 jlafayette@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

At a Glance: National Hockey League

Based in: New York

Founded: 1917

2011 Revenue: $3 billion

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