One of the burning questions during the NBA lockout has been, “How does hockey, or the NHL, take advantage of the casual fan during a fall of no NBA hoops?” The answer is simple, they don’t, not really. One of the biggest misconceptions is that fans will jump to another sport or activity quickly to fill a void, and that other sports, leagues, activities should spend large amounts of dollars trying to grab more casual eyeballs. In reality, cultivation of fans takes a long time, and those passionate fans will return to their viewing habits over time when the lockout is settled. Also the assumption in these challenging time that casual fans will go and spend those same dollars on other sports or activities they may or may not like is also a bad one. In most cases those dollars will go to other leasure activities or they will be banked for when the activity they are passionate about comes back. So what do other sports like hockey do during the lockout? What they should do best, concentrate on their own strong and casual fan base.
That’s what the NHL is doing, and had planned to do regardless of the lockout. The hockey fan will get his first in a longtime dose of national coverage on NBC this Friday, followed by enhanced and expanded programs on Versus over the weekend. Many regional networks are filling their NBA void with college hockey (the annual sold out Cornell-Boston University at MSG will make it to air for the first time this weekend) or maybe some expanded NHL shows, which is also a help to reinforce the value of the sport to those flipping the dial. The NHL/NBC partnership even pulled in some added eyeballs with a presence in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Also on the content side, the ability to pitch and place personality stories about fans, players and the game itself is a bit wider without competition for space from the NBA, so a little more friendly ear from media decision makers can help grow the game a bit as well.
The fall is always crowded in the marketplace, and most fans don’t really engage in winter coverage until we are closer to the holidays. Now hockey does have a window for expanded content to remind those who do follow when the weather is colder to come aboard a bit earlier. It is less about conversion of hoops fans and more about enhancement of their own casual followers and reinforcing the support, with broadcast and brand partners, that hockey makes good business for the passionate core and the casual follower.
What hockey, especially the NHL, can and will do best with during these challenging times for the NBA is to focus on their core business and fans, and enhance their own product. When the NBA does come back it will fill its own void in a media frenzy. However until that point there is a void for content and feel good enhancement of a good product, and that is the best place to focus for the business of hockey.