Monday, September 17, 2007

Fixing the NHL -- Can We At Least Market the Darned Thing?

Just some food-for-thought for you on Monday afternoon. I had a short, albeit interesting discussion in my marketing class this morning.

It's the second week of the class (or maybe the third, time isn't really relevant right now), and as you might expect we're doing a whole lot of generic topics. We discussed what we thought marketing was, and what it's all about. We discussed the best and worst marketed products/leagues/etc in sports, and as you might have expected, the NHL was named among the worst.

Of course, being that I am in the southeast US most people didn't know too much about the NHL, or care about it for that matter. Not to say that there aren't hockey fans here, but you know what I mean. There was one point in the discussion I thought was interesting; someone mentioned one of the problem's with NHL marketing is that 'there are no stars'. You know, no Mannings or LeBrons who put the sport on their back and run with it.

I wasn't about to debate the merits of hockey, since it's always going to be a losing battle especially in the home of NASCAR, but it sparked some serious internal conversation. As a serious hockey enthusiast, I couldn't understand what they were talking about. 'No stars? Is this a joke? We've got kids like Ovechkin and Malkin. Then there's still those outstanding vets like Thornton, Iginla, Brodeur, Selanne and Sakic. Of course, there's also the second coming; Sid the Kid. He's the biggest thing to hit hockey since... well, since Gretzky! Yes, we've got stars! '

Then I came to my senses.

Of course the general populous doesn't think there are any star players in hockey, because no company in America would dare take a chance on having a hockey player preach about their product. Everyone knows about LeBron and the Manning brothers. Take my mom, for example. She doesn't know what team any of those guys play for, save for Eli Manning because he plays in our hometown. Nonetheless, she still knows who they are, what sport they play, and that they must be important because they're pitching Nike shoes and Gatorade bottles. She's not going to go out and buy their products or will want to see them play, but she recognizes that these sports are in the consciousness of many Americans.

When you take things out of the perspective of the average female 'baby boomer' there's much more of an impact. Other people will almost certainly be more influenced than she is, kids especially. I know I loved those McDonald's commercials from about 15 years ago with Larry Bird and Magic. You know they would play h.o.r.s.e. and call ridiculous shots like, "off the ceiling, off Ronald McDonald, off the house next door and in." My memory is a little hazy, so that's probably not entirely accurate, but I think you know the commercials that I'm talking about.

My point is, if a generation of kids (and adults for that matter) grow up not seeing any hockey on their TV sets, how can you possibly expect hockey to thrive in the future? Even if it's as little marketing as seeing a 30-second cut of Sidney Crosby, it still gets into the back of someone's mind. Heck, it might even be a good commercial that you don't even need to know anything about hockey to like, such as this Crosby commercial made by Gatorade, but not even shown in the States (as far as I know). Almost everyone can relate to pickup sports, and even if someone don't know who Crosby is, this ad would certainly get them wondering.

It's time to go beyond the 'My NHL' commercials and get some serious commercial backing. It might just be a pipe dream, but isn't there any company out there that the NHL can beg convince to pay for some air time? The last time I checked, NHL arenas aren't completely devoid of advertisements.


  1. On a related note, I forget which broadcaster on the NHL XM channel 204 said this last week but he brought up a valid point. In terms of publicity, what is bigger than the Super Bowl? Where is the Super Bowl this year? Phoenix, on Feb 3. Who is playing in town on a six game homestand from Jan 29-Feb 10? The stinkin' Phoenix Suns. And which team is gone from Jan 24-Feb 7, thus taking no advantage of the added exposure? Wayne Gretzky's Coyotes. They both play in different arenas so it can't be a scheduling issue, unless the NFL has somehow booked 2 weeks' worth of dates at the Glendale Arena.

  2. Us Americans wouldn't even know why people are piling up their sticks with #87's.

  3. James, the reason the Yotes are out of town during the Super Bowl is because Glendale Arena is right next to U of P stadium and they are using all the parking lots around there for a number of NFL events. The Yotes are a mess and deserved to be called to the carpet for a number of things, but not on this issue.

  4. Fair enough. As long as it wasn't an NHL decision to hide from the spotlight, then I'm ok with that.

    It still stinks that because they happen to play in a venue next to the football stadium, the NHL won't get a free publicity pass that weekend like the NBA will. Grrr. Rotten luck for the NHL.

  5. RBK is all over Crosby's cock in Canada, why not a similar ad campaign here in the States?

    I think you are right in that there needs to be more crossbranding. The folks who watch hockey will of course respond to "watch hockey" ads featuring Crosby and Sakic but the key is to get these guys to endorse other non-hockey products and branch them out to the general sports-watching population. Nike bough Bauer. I mentioned RBK. Why not have the NHL or the agents aggressively have these companies do general sports commercials with hockey players?

  6. As insane and xenophobic as it is, its harder for the NHL to market to Americans because so few of the top players are from the country.

    Even the NBA, which prides itself on being international these days, rarely puts its international stars out there. Aside from the Yo!Yao commercials from a few years ago, when was the last time you saw a Dirk Nowitzki ad? They have a lot of American stars they can put out there while the NHL does not. To the best of my knowledge, they haven't used Canadian Steve Nash for anything outside of a Got Milk ad ... the marketers seem to believe that the American public will not relate to (or be able to identify) the foreign hockey players ...

    The one thing the league can take solace in is that the NFL decided to rip off one of their ads, having Peyton Manning and Reggie Bush ordering food for each other in a hotel much the same way Cindy Crosby and Alex Ovechkin did in last season's All Star ad campaign ...