How The NHL Is Finding Tough Love

With the NFL in full swing and post-season baseball heating up, consider this your friendly reminder that the NHL season returns tomorrow. After suffering a lockout during the 2012-13 season, the league is getting back on solid footing, and setting its sights on growth. In honor of the 97th season of play, here are a few things that the second-oldest of the big four sports leagues is doing right to expand its reach.  

Importance of Owning a Night

Last year, the league saw vast success on Wednesday nights and literally owned the evening by positioning historic rivalries on NBCSN every Wednesday. Following ratings spikes, with an average of 559,000 viewers, there is no doubt that the league and network will pit similar rivalries together again heading into the 2014-15 season. To promote its ownership of the night even more, the NHL put together a magnificent TV marketing campaign titled the “The Night You Love to Hate.” The creative ads displayed the true emotion of teams, players and fans mashed up with the classic Minnie Riperton hit, “Loving You.” 

Embracing Technology

The aforementioned gritty, satirical ad and social content utilized by the NHL fits the brand, with players light on their skates, yet rough around the edges. The league and its teams are the known leaders of blatantly displaying hockey’s culture from a content perspective, especially on the second screen. Knowing they may have to work a little harder to embrace digital and video content, the league has stressed branded video content, with more than 24,000 videos on YouTube. The NHL channel also offers exclusives, game highlights and culture videos which tally over 247 million total views. In 2013, the league began rolling out team-specific mobile applications, while investing heavily in mobile video and live streaming. Couple that with last week’s announcement that GoPro and the NHL are entering into a content-sharing deal for this season, and the NHL continues to show that it is not afraid to innovate. 

Sponsors Finding Positioning with Youth, Community

Brands are continuing to find success in programs that cultivate youth and community, especially with growing leagues. Heading into this season Kraft will unveil their partnership with the NHL and their program titled “Kraft Hockeyville 2015.” The program will support hockey at a local and community level, where children learn the game and hockey-crazed communities gather as one. Kraft will be giving local communities a chance to win $150,000 for an arena, rink and/or facility makeover, and then have then refurbished arena play host to an NHL preseason game on national TV. 

Avoiding Oversaturation

Outdoor games will be scaled back by three times for the 2014-15 season. Last year, the league hosted six outdoor games in massive stadiums, and the big dollar signs came in. According to sources, the Kings versus Ducks game last year was the highest-grossing game in the history of Dodger Stadium. This year, however, we’ll see only two outdoor games, even though they were very attractive to fans, marketers and teams. It may have been too much too soon. And some industry sources say that with the heightened outdoor spectacles, the NHL was trying to immediately find lost revenue from the lockout and to remain relevant around the Winter Olympics.

It was only two years ago when the game took a hard hit. With the lockout, the league suffered a black eye — one that rippled to cities, players, fans and sponsors. It hasn’t been easy for the league, but they have found their way back, and look poised to make an even bigger impact this upcoming season. This is a new era of the NHL, and for those invested in the sport, the tough love has been a welcomed sight. 

3 comments about "How The NHL Is Finding Tough Love ".
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  1. Neil Hunter from Consumer Kinetics Inc., October 7, 2014 at 10:12 a.m.

    Always nice to see Hockey get a little good press. It is interesting that the idea of owning a night is mentioned. Wednesday has become a bit of a push from the NHL, no more so than perhaps the NFL trying to use Thursday in recent years,
    As a Canadian Saturday is as synonymous with Hockey as Sunday is to football. "Hockey Night in Canada" is the broadcast name, and it is true, across the country every bar, and almost every home the hockey game is on. The TV Package recently signed by Rogers with the NHL is going to help the bottom line for all teams more than any impact from NBCSN. The success of the Hockeyville program in Canada with Kraft over the last number of years, has led to the migration of the program into the US. The Canadian Kraft Marketing Team should be commended for putting together such a program, that is a proven winner and should provide a nice blueprint for the US to implement.

  2. Kyle Sherman from Hts, October 7, 2014 at 2:11 p.m.

    John - good information on the network aspects of the NHL. I think you missed a huge part of the NHL Eco-system that exists on the Regional Sports Networks which carry 90% of the games and the VAST majority of interest and impressions. To reach the NHL fan base, the RSNs play a large role. Hockey is one of the most parochial sports and we have converted this passion into great connections between national brands and the fans that follow teams on their regional broadcast.

  3. Patrick Trybus from Hunter Hagan & Co., November 4, 2014 at 1:39 a.m.

    The NHL has been doing a great job ever since the lockout ended a few years back to grab the attention of lost fans. The league probably knew that it was going to keep the hardcore fan base intact throughout the lost season, but it has been the task of building a new fan base to keep the sport growing that has been a challenge. Last years’ choice of making great rivalry games played on Wednesday nights paid off in a fantastic way. I believe it grabbed many more fans by broadcasting some of the best games the league has to offer, with the most popular players being able to be seen for new viewers to watch. Advertisements and access to NHL highlights and stats provides great access for new fans to become more interested in the sport. With apps like NHL Center Ice and Game Center, fans have the ability to watch every team play day in and day out through the season. The qualities of those applications are, in my opinion, the best of the four major sports in the United States. The NHL is also making a good decision by cutting down the number of outdoor games to be played during this new season. As a fan of the sport, it was fantastic to watch the first few games that were played outdoors last year. However, once the Anaheim and Los Angeles game was played, and the game was taking place in 75 degree conditions, the novelty of the game wore off. Overall, great strides by the NHL is making the sport become a rising success in popularity.

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