Winter Classic: Save!

12 Apr

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

They Shoot, They Score!

The long-term fate of the National Hockey League rested in the very capable hands of CEO John Collins, former marketing master for the NFL. When hockey got exciting (in my opinion, nothing is better than playoff hockey!), fans weren’t tuning in unless their team was represented. A valid reason for not watching, albeit a disturbing one for ratings. That was a huge adjustment for Collins, coming from the NFL  where “[n]obody cancelled their Super Bowl party because they didn’t like the two teams that were in it.” The lockout in the 2004-2005 season didn’t help matters either following which the sport was all but dead.

So the question was: how do you create enough buzz and excitement for hockey to encourage year-round, unconditional viewing? The answer: Create an event honoring hockey’s outdoor pond roots and featuring some of hockey’s best stars – The Winter Classic! The first ever Winter Classic debuted New Years’ Day 2008 with two hugely popular contenders: The Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ultimately, it’s about the stars of the game who make it exciting. “[I]t showed doubters in the NHL hierarchy that the league could be must-watch viewing.”1 People tune in not only to watch their favorite teams, but the personalities and talent that comprise the league. Names like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos are drawing in fans from cities and towns across the country, not just in home markets.

Since the inception of the Winter Classic game, the NHL has witnessed record ratings. Not only is “[t]elevision viewership in the United States … the highest [it has been] in eight years [but], arenas have been filled to capacity — and then some — during the playoffs, new sponsors are signing up and merchandise sales are on the rise.”2 In fact, the Winter Classic has encouraged higher ratings than the NHL has seen in over ten years, the highest since Wayne Gretzky’s final game in 1999.3

So what was it that lead up to this ingenious idea? Collins and his team determined 3 key things. 1) “The NHL fan base is what we like to call the cream of the sports market,” Collins says. “We have a younger demographic and a tech-savvy fan base.” 2) Determined the need for a comprehensive source for all things ice hockey. was launched shortly thereafter as the ultimate authority of hockey reporting, recaps, stats and fan interaction. And 3) “Fifty per cent of our fans’ favourite team is not their local team. They’re out of market,” Collins says.1

“[T]he romance of the NHL’s outdoor game has strangely resonated with Americans”…”eclips[ing even] the Stanley Cup as the league’s signature event.”4 I’d call that a success!

(If you’d like specifics on how the game has changed the NHL, visit Puck the Media.)

NHL logo courtesy of
2 Associated Press
3 Wikipedia
4 Yahoo! Sport

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More posts from this series:
Success in China: KFC 
GAP’s Branding Blunder
Coffee, Wii Bowling, Yoga and…Banking?
Bird-Watching: It’s Not Your Grandmother’s Hobby Anymore

One Response to “Winter Classic: Save!”

  1. Gene April 12, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    Nice article. You hit the nail on the head. Thinking outside the arena and promoting your ideas is a strategy for success!

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