The Buzz by Mike Schaffer - PR, Social Media, Pop Culture and Sports

Pop Culture, Sports

February 28, 2010

3 Tips for the NHL to Maximize Olympics

Tags: hockey, nhl, olympics, ovechkin, Sports, sydney crosby, winter olympics

The final act of the Vancouver Olympics captivated a continent.  In a thrilling contest, perhaps the best game  possible on the biggest stage in sport, Canada’s hockey team withstood the challenge of the surprising Team USA.  Despite a last-minute regulation USA goal, Sydney Crosby’s overtime tally sealed the gold medal for the  red-and-white.

And the buzz was off the charts across the US.  The ratings haven’t come in yet, but, this will probably rank as one of the most-viewed hockey games in years, especially in the United States.

So how can the National Hockey League reap the benefits of this renewed interest in the “coolest game?”

1. Push Ryan Miller – Despite dominating the NHL this season, Ryan Miller has not been a household name.  However, that has all changed.  The tournament’s MVP is now one of the most well-known hockey players in the world.  His performance in Vancouver was a textbook definition of how a goaltender can put a team on his back.  Whenever they can, the NHL should make sure Miller and his Sabres get major exposure.

2. Grassroots Initiatives – The window will only stay open so long without immediate and impactful action in the United States.  The time is NOW to increase community-level initiatives to get kids on the ice and develop the players who can win gold in future games.  Make no doubt, there were kids watching today who want to play this game.  Take advantage of their interest – and the interest of parents to fund the not-cheap venture!

3. Globalize the League – NHL players come from dozens of nations and made up a significant percentage of  Olympic rosters.  The NHL must continue to brand itself as the ONLY hockey league top-flight players should want to play in.  Over the years, Russia’s KHL has become an attractive alternative to Eastern Block players, which hurts the NHL’s credibility (albeit incrementally).  Why not run an all-out international exhibition tour during the preseason this coming Fall?  Let Ovechkin play a game in Russia.  Bring a contest to Sweden.  Show hockey fans and players what the NHL is all about.

Those are my suggestions – what else can the NHL do to maximize this wave?

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  • Speaking as a fan, fire Commissioner Gary Bettman
  • I'll reiterate the statements about the TV deals made by all. I know that the NHL's contract with NBC and Versus runs through the 2010-11 season, so there isn't too much that can be done on that front for now. I would love to see ESPN/ABC pick it up though. Especially for the playoffs and Stanley Cup when the games matter most.

    For having NHLers in the 2014 games, I can understand Bettman's objections of distance/time/etc, but this was the best showcase the NHL could have asked for. If he's reluctant to let all of the NHL players go, maybe adopt or modify what soccer does for the Olympics. Olympic soccer is U-23 with up to 3 older players per team, to showcase the young and upcoming talent, along with keeping the amateur spirit of the Olmypics alive. There would be more strategy involved, plus it allows for younger talent from other North American minor leagues to gain some exposure and experience. I know soccer has the World Cup as their main talent showcase while the Olmpics take a 2nd seat whereas the Olympics ARE the biggest international hockey showcase, but it's just a thought.

    Also, does the NHL, its teams or its players heavily invest in social media? Twitter has created a great way for fans to interact with teams and players. And while NHLers might not be as funny or recognizable as Chad Ochocinco or Shaq, being able to communicate with fans will help everyone connect to the players and teams. Of course some of the language barriers for many of the foreign stars might hinder slightly, but it would still be a great way to interact and build player awareness.
  • jasonmollica
    The NHL will capitalize on this burst of Olympic excitement. You could see it during the closing ceremonies last night, as they showed Miller, Tim Thomas, walking into BC Place. NBC can do all the promoting it wants, but the ESPN's of the world need to stop relegating the NHL to second-tier status. The pending NCAA tournament will now take precedent as does MLB spring training.

    The global aspect is already there, with the NHL playing pre-season games overseas. They have also "kicked off" the season the last two years in Stockholm and the Czech Republic.

    My one concern is that every "new" fan will think that the NHL is like what happened Sunday night. It's not like that every night, but be patient. The best part of the season is yet to come.
  • tshepard
    Great suggestions Mike! Miller is already a hometown hero in Lansing, but hockey fans across the country grew to love him throughout the games. Between Miller and Crosby I think we'll see hockey become more prominent in marketing (with or without the NHL) and like Tom mentioned, hopefully picked up by other TV stations.

    Like Jamie mentioned, Michigan already has youth hockey initiatives in place. In the past, the CCHA hosted free hockey clinics for kids who have never played before. They provided all of the equipment and had high school and college hockey players and coaches there to teach basic skating and hockey moves. These clinics were an opportunity for kids to test out the sport before parents had to put any money into it and helped increase learn to skate registration. I would love to see something like this picked up by the NHL or other hockey leagues.
  • MattLaCasse
    The NHL needs to maximize its exposure where it will get the most benefit. That's not in places like Phoenix or Tampa Bay that don't get snow on a regular basis. Move one of the warm weather franchises to Kansas City. The Sprint Center was built to bring in an NHL and/or a NBA team. It doesn't have a tenant yet. If St. Louis can support 3 major sports, so can KC.

    Tom made a great point. No one is going to watch the NHL if it continues to be on NBC and VS. When I think of NBC sports, I think Notre Dame football, Olympics coverage and the NFL. The NFL is viewed could put games on Lifetime and people would tune in, so that doesn't really count.

    Get on ABC/ESPN or on CBS. If ESPN successfully bids away the NCAA tournament from CBS, it will be primed to replace it with something in March. NHL hockey would be a great fit. The bottom line is this. The number one rule of sales is place your product where people will see it. They won't see it on NBC or VS. They will see it on just about any other network that carries sports.
  • Great tips, Mike!

    Two more:
    1) Make sure you're in Sochi. You absolutely cannot afford to miss an opportunity to further market yourself. Announce it today. Be there.

    2) Get the playoffs on ESPN & ESPN2 ASAP. You think sports on TV, you think ESPN. Simple as that. That and I yearn for the days when I could camp out on my couch and watch 4 playoff hockey games in a night.
  • That sounds amazing the tournament at the end of the season. There are already the World Juniors and the World Championships but they don't get the press which the Stanley Cup does and the Olympics.

    I know in MI there is a grass roots movement for youth hockey in place already. Ann Arbor is one of the places where Team USA trains.

    I hope the sport continues to grow but I don't think it can as long as it is on NBC. They can't seem to do anything right.
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