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.”
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.
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.