The Sochi Olympics are in the rear view mirror, there is labor peace, the Cup is basking in Southern California warmth for the fall and winter, there is talk of new ownership and even expansion and some of the biggest markets seem primed for a solid season on and off the ice. All signs are that the NHL is ready to take another step forward, and the league looks ready to take advantage of all those factors and then some. Here’s some reasons why
Tech Keeps Coming
GoPro, let’s go. The NHL’s point of view focus has helped changed the way fans can engage and watch the game both online and in broadcast, and now their partnership with GoPro can give that view an even bigger boost. Drop micro cameras here there and everywhere, and down the line give fans the ability to choose from Henrik cam or Trotz cam and the choices for intimate engagement, not to mention viral video will be endless. The partnership with Go Pro also generated some great buzz during a quiet preseason for the league, and dovetails nicely with the leagues investment in the mobile space. In 2013, the league rolled out team-specific mobile applications, and invested heavily in mobile video and live streaming. Tie that to a new way for fans to view, and you have a very smart mix sent to your hand-held device, all sponsorable and sharable for fans.
Krafting A Brand Message
Along with MLS, the NHL has been the home for new brands looking to find their way into major sport in the US in recent years, as well as for some traditional brands looking to re-jig their image with a demo that is highly engaged and a bit younger. In 2014-15 Kraft will create “Kraft Hockeyville 2015,” a program which will support hockey at a local and community level, giving kids a chance to lean and becoming a home for communities where the game is embraced and enjoyed already. 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.
The NBC partnership with the NHL continues to evolve in various ways, the biggest of which will be cross promoting hockey and soccer and then driving all ancillary hockey fans to a night which the league can own throughout the year, and that appears to be Wednesdays. No football to really speak of, college hoops pushes towards early week and weekends, and the NBA has taken Thursday with Turner, so the NHL can focus on mid-week excitement, the night when their ratings have already shown a dramatic uptick. The league’s 12 year deal with Rogers Communications in Canada also affords them more of an innovative platform that breaks a little with tradition and helps re-invigorate the strong sports brand up north, while bringing Ross Greenburg back to re-engineer the Road to The Winter Classic and “The Road To the Stadium Series” with new partner EPIX will also provide a new, fresh and added edge for broadcast fans of the sport. All of which brings new glitz, new focus and new voices to an already growing broadcast audience for hockey.
So as the season begins this week and into the weekend, will hockey suddenly vault over baseball, hoops and football in terms of engagement? Not yet, but not that it has to. Hockey has done a good job of realizing that its first goal was to embrace and cultivate its core, like soccer has, and then go from there to find new audiences. It has really done a solid job with step one, and continues to find ways to infiltrate step two all of which makes for a compelling story, and for smart business, as fall arrives and the ice starts settling in. Solid product in the building, solid extensions outside will make NHL a warm property for cold North American nights.