The NHL has always had a difficult task in generating mainstream interest at the start of the season. College football and the NFL are really kicking in, the baseball playoffs are going strong. there is a Ryder Cup or a Breeders Cup in the area and the NBA is also pushing for preseason attention, so hockey, with the weather still warm, has always fund itself on the back burner…until now. Coming off a watershed year that saw an Olympics boost, the rise of Chicago, a compelling playoff run and the emergence and marketing of a host of new faces, the NHL has found new ways to continue its momentum and pull in fresh eyeballs and attention as the season begins anew this weekend.
The week past saw an announcement that reaches kids and pop culture in a partnership with comic legend Stan Lee to develop a series of super heros with stories tied to each NHL team and a partnership with Foursquare to also help reach a casual fan base. That came with a big festival in Toronto, at the heart of the sport, to celebrate all things hockey, and a series of in market and digital promotions to try and engage fans from the start. No it's still not the huge kickoff that the NFL takes on and it doesn’t have the quaint and excited beginnings of opening day in baseball, but it does show that the NHL is not resting and is finding new ways to continue to engage its fans and find new ones who may have noticed and enjoyed the NHL experience in some way last spring. Is there any initial huge value to having a superhero created out of a Canuck in Vancouve.? Probably not. However that announcement and others give people reason to talk and think hockey in a conversation where hockey was not in the past, and that has tremendous value.
Is the hype something that can continue for the sport throughout a long winter, especially in markets where the game still has yet to really grow or needs to be revitalize. TBD. However teams like the New Jersey Devils, who never really marketed the team effectively until the past few years, and even the New York Islanders, with their new Wifi push and other attempts at gaining exposure, will help that push market by market, hopefully with the overall support of league-wide initiatives. The economy is still not the greatest for brand re-engagement and the challenges are still vast to keep hockey relevant, but by building hype and giving people more and more reasons to engage…in person, online and with brand partners...the NHL can continue to grow and show more people how great not just their product is but how great the sport of hockey is overall.