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Finding a way to expand the NHL’s marketing

June 5, 2012

Allow me, for a moment to jump on the bandwagon. I never want to come across as someone who jumps on the coattails of a national story for easy content. Truthfully, it isn’t fair to the person who originally covered the topic. However, Puck Daddy questioned why ratings are down for this year’s Cup finals despite the inclusion of Los Angeles and the New York/New Jersey markets.

Greg Wyshynski cited columns by Adrian Dater and Steve Lepore which each make their own argument for why the NHL’s TV ratings seem to linger in the neighborhood of average reality shows. Lepore’s column is in response to Dater’s. While Lepore doesn’t find much to agree with Dater on, I feel like they’re both on the right track.

Whether you think Dater’s player-driven or Lepore’s league-driven marketing is the right course of action, the answer at the end of the day is that the NHL needs to find a way to bring more spotlight to those playing in each game.

Dater’s argument is basically that the players in the NHL aren’t outlandish enough to draw consistent attention to themselves. According to Dater, operating on the team-first attitude has eliminated the potential for explosive personalities. Dater also points to the general lack of star power in this series as a major reason for lack of interest.

As a counterpoint, Lepore argues that the onus is on the league to promote their players over the game itself. More specifically, the NHL should promote their players without the need of marketing polarizing personalities. I have to say I completely agree.

Without just plagiarizing Lepore’s entire column, I think there is a lot to be said for the point he (and Dater) makes. The NHL, while growing in a number of areas, still isn’t making as big of an impact on TV and their marketing has something to do with the struggles.

Lepore disagrees that the NHL’s stars need to step out and polarize themselves, I agree. There is no need for the NHL’s players to draw attention to themselves with embarrassing antics (see: NBA, NFL). That isn’t what needs to be done and it is where Dater’s argument is off the mark. Rule number six, draw attention to yourself, but on your own terms.

I think there is room for the NHL to expand their approach in terms of marketing. Specifically, finding ways for the game to be injected more into pop culture. Think of what was done on CNBC in the early rounds and then expand that to, you know, channels people watch.

A great example is one made by Lepore. The NHL commercials that have run for a number of years are phenomenal. However, as Lepore notes, they appeal best to hockey diehards. Not to mention that all of these ads focus either on the past or the game as a whole, no singular superstars or showcase of talent. Maybe identifying superstars and utilizing them in marketing would be a good start. It isn’t as if the NHL has never tried this before (minus J.S. Aubin).

I’d like to see some cross marketing on behalf of the NHL while using their biggest stars as the focal point. Obviously there will be tougher sells than others. But Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Pat Kane and other US and Canadian Olympians would be a good place to start. Put them in national ad campaigns and make sure its obvious they’re hockey players. Even better, cross promote with other sports and celebrities. Obviously David Beckham kind of likes hockey if he keeps showing up at these games. Same with die hards like Dennis Leary and Cuba Gooding Jr. (I probably could’ve tried harder with Cuba). Put these guys on a TV screen with hockey players and let the magic happen.

I think stealing from the old PGA Tour line “These guys are good” would be brilliant. No other sport takes the athletic ability and skill of hockey. Toss a few basketball or football guys out there on the ice and have some fun. You can’t deny those ads would connect a bit more with fans of guys like Kobe, Peyton Manning or others.

The day will never come that Mike Fisher and Carrie Underwood have a reality show, which is so unfortunate I can’t really describe it. So the reality TV route is probably bunk. However, there is no problem with borrowing the influence of celebs and athletes from the NBA and NFL. Who cares? If it brings more attention to hockey and the NHL then it is mission accomplished.

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