Monday, June 27, 2005


Marketing Ramblings

With many people believing that there will be NHL hockey next season, the challenge for the NHL is drawing people back in to the game (the casual fans), and then drawing new fans into the 'improved' product Gary Bettman has envisioned.

Given the NHL's poor record of management and marketing, what can they do to reach out and grab some of the fan support they have always craved from an apathetic American public?

I'm not a marketing major, nor do I play one on TV, but I do have a few thoughts...and so does ESPN's Scott Burnside.

First, the NHL has to say "We're Sorry, please don't leave!"

Most teams are expected to offer significant incentives to season-ticket holders and reductions in ticket prices across the board.

'Most' is the operative word here, because you won't get any ticket price reduction from strong markets like Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal. Ticket prices are purely a supply-and-demand price structure, and the demand will obviously be less in many markets. You can expect ticket prices to rise once teams get to their target level of attendance. This isn't really a marketing tool, but part of the overall business plan.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, for instance, are planning a series of promotions for season-ticket holders who did not withdraw their money during the lockout. The team plans to reward those fans with replicas of the Stanley Cup rings presented to Lightning players.
Now, this is creative and a nice gesture from a team to its fans. The rings will probably be 'junk' jewelery, but this type of creative thinking has been lacking in many NHL markets. The fans of Tbay missed out on a year of having their team as the defending Stanley Cup Champs, so this is a nice way to feel like they are enjoying the success along with the team.

So, what about measures to market the product beyond simple apologies and one-time offers?

Although the exact details of the NHL's marketing plan aren't yet known, some of the strategies include attempts to market its star players in a more aggressive way. Better access and a more friendly relationship with the media have been promised in the hopes of promoting players and their stories.

The league is looking to expand access to players and coaches during games, beyond the traditional between-period interviews.

The NHL, which claims that hockey fans are the most technologically savvy of all pro sports fans, will focus a portion of its marketing energies on the cyber world. It will also work to improve the at-home experience for an ever-waning television audience, employing new camera angles, microphones on players and coaches and the use of high definition television production.
As I've said before, the first and most important thing for the NHL to do is to improve the on-ice product. NHL hockey was enjoying major gains in the early-to-mid 90s, and they didn't need High Definition TV, microphones on players, or pucks with glowing red tails (oh, wait...)...people tuned in because the product was exciting (more flow, more scoring chances, more fights).

I can't remember which blogger talked about it, but the NHL could do very well to follow the model of other sports (NFL) and tell more 'stories' about the players and the teams. Instead of the boring and extremely cliched intermission interviews ("Yeah, we gave it 105%...we need to establish the forecheck, yabba dabba do"), why not use the intermission segments to stories about the players...make up some drama!

Why doesn’t the NHL hire the people who work in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) to do some in-game promos? If there is anything the WWE is great at, it's their storytelling montages and event hyping.

We could even have Jim Ross doing commentary: "My God! Brashear just hit Sandy McCarthy in the head with a hockey stick! The man is possessed!"

As for the 'Cyber World', the problem for the NHL is that there isn't nearly the demand for on-line services like the MLB, which has the most successful internet venture in all of pro sports. The NHL used to be a pioneer in this regard, but they've fallen way behind everyone else.

As a cybergeek, myself, I'd like to see the in-game reporting beefed up (Go to and check out their GameTrak. We should have to-the-second updating of every shot, check, save, and penalty call. They could have a diagram of the ice and show where each incident we could listen to the game through one of their radio feeds (something the NHL does a great job of) and then keep visual track with the GameTrak. Better yet, the NHL could do what the MLB does and offer live games online for $2.95 or something. Not only does the MLB let you watch the game live, but you can download any of the games on their archive. Perhaps a Lightning fan would pay $2.95 to download the Cup winning game?

Another thing I notice is the statistics for the NHL are poorly done. Each individual player page has only the basic stats, and the more detail stat pages don't go back many years. The NHL needs to become a much better keeper of its own records.

Is any publicity 'good' for the NHL?

Most marketing types would say 'Yes', but I'll say 'Maybe'

I love the fact that Jeremy Roenick speaks his mind - I wish more players did that! On the other hand, JR isn't endearing casual fans to the sport or even the hardcore fans by spouting off like a pouty millionaire.

Talking about signing a CBA now as supposed to earlier
"If we would have signed that deal in February, in terms of what we're getting now, we would have looked like heroes," he added.

"Right now we look like a bunch of idiots...The deal in February beats the (expletive) out of the deal we're gonna sign in July."
Heroes? Would the players come out as heroes? In any event, JR should know that the NHL will never, EVER, be able to idiot-proof any CBA system. As long as 'hockey men' run NHL teams and lawyers and agents run the NHLPA, the NHLPA will always have a leg up on the NHL. While the PA can't take advantage of a Brian Burke, they can take advantage of guys like Bob Clarke, who wouldn't know a debit from a credit.

...and there are teams that will try to circumvent the cap for their own greedy reasons...

It's unfortunate we had to go through a whole year to realize the (expletive) that was going on," said Roenick. "We've hurt our league, we've hurt the reputation of our league and the integrity of our league by sticking up for something that might not have been the right thing to do."
Jeremy won't make any friends (if he had any) within the player ranks with these comments. As much as I may not agree fully with the PA's stance, why should the PA have to apologize for standing up for what they believe in, while the NHL comes off as the heroes? Both sides lost a lot on this dispute and both made the same mistakes.

"If people are going to sit and chastise pro athletes for being cocky - for being suck asses - they need to look at one thing and that's the deal we're going to be signing in about three weeks," he said.

"Pro athletes are not cocky. Pro athletes care about the game. Everybody out there who calls us spoiled because we play a game - they can kiss my ass."
Thanks, but I'll pass on the posterior smooching.

I don't think JR realizes the irony in his statement about cocky athletes...hmmm... part of being a professional athlete is having a great deal of confidence and cockiness, though I don't know many who label hockey players are 'cocky'. Soccer, Football, and Basketball players are called 'cocky' quite often, but rarely hockey players. 'Greedy' would be a more apt description.

"I will say personally, personally, to everybody who calls us spoiled - you guys are just jealous... We're trying to get this thing back on the ice and make it better for the fans. If you don't realize that, then don't come. We don't want you in the rink, we don't want you in the stadium, we don't want you to watch hockey."
Now, this is the type of publicity that the NHL could live without. JR is trying to make the players look like 'heroes' for signing a deal that is so bad for them (which remains to be seen), yet he insults those same fans for not worshipping greedy players and greedy owners who fight over millions and billions of dollars.

JR, maybe you need a glass of Sugar-Free Reality Cola.

We could even have Jim Ross doing commentary: "My God! Brashear just hit Sandy McCarthy in the head with a hockey stick! The man is possessed!"

The word SLOBBERKNOCKER comes into mind.

- Duc

Love you, love the blog, but for the love of Malik please do me a favor:


Same with NASCAR--though I think the NHL would do well to get together with Bill France Jr. and take some lessons on marketing a sport.

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