SBD/January 4, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

NHL, Stan Lee Preparing To Unveil Hockey-Themed Comic Project

Penguins Superheroes Have Been Unveiled As Part Of NHL Guardian Project

The NHL's partnership with comic book creator Stan Lee for a hockey-themed project is a "novel endeavor that may shape how sports leagues use comicbook-style entertainment vehicles to sell their product in the future," according to Josh Chetwynd of DAILY VARIETY. The NHL and Lee will formally unveil "The Guardian Project," a group of 30 superheroes each based on a particular NHL franchise, at the All-Star Game later this month. The characters "won't have a direct relationship to any of the athletes or action on the ice." Instead, they are "based on team names and logos" and will "possess general traits attributed to clubs and feature backstories meant to appeal to local fans." Beyond the "marketing implications, the NHL's depth of involvement also makes the deal notable." The league and Lee have set up Guardian Media Entertainment, a "dedicated company with seven full-time employees." GME Chief Creative Officer Adam Baratta said, "You are blending the intellectual property of two brands -- Stan Lee and the NHL -- and are dealing with issues of who owns the IP and the blended mark. The NHL has probably done things here that no other league would do." Chetwynd notes for the launch, the "gameplan is for the superheroes to initially roll out through comicbooks, an online presence, merchandising, Jumbotron interstitials at games and character images on television broadcasts." Those efforts will be "followed by social media gaming and a novel explaining character backstories." GME also "hopes to have a television cartoon on air by 2012 and eventually produce film projects." Using comics "tenuously tied to the actual sport is [uncharted] territory." Before partnering with the NHL, Lee was "in serious talks six years ago" with the NFL for a similar project. The league "wanted its top players to receive superhero makeovers," but Lee "balked and the deal broke down" (DAILY VARIETY, 1/4).

LET ME BE YOUR HERO: Lee said he was “was very lucky” in creating the 30 heroes, as the “names of the teams lend themselves to superheroes.” Lee: “It was very easy to just talk to the artist and say, 'Look, this team is called the Panthers, let's say, so get me a Panther as a superhero,' and we now have 30 of them. They're being illustrated now. The stories are being worked on, and it's a very exciting project because I've done comic books that had many heroes, like the X-Men. They had a handful of heroes, but 30 in one series!? I mean, it's a prestigious task and a helluva lot of fun” ("Hockey Central," Versus, 1/3).

FIVE MINUTES FOR FIGHTING: YAHOO SPORTS' Ryan Lambert wrote "The Guardian Project" might be the "most inane, and least comprehensible, thing the NHL has done to trick people into watching a Wild game yet." Two of the superheroes -- representing the Penguins ("The Penguin") and the Kings ("The King") -- have been unveiled. The Penguins-inspired character's "super powers include the ability to fire ice missiles," while the Kings' superhero "has a force field and carries a shield." Lambert: "I'm not sure why he would need both of those things." The "motivation on the league's part" is understandable, but "even if we are to ignore that the basic tenet of this League should be to promote the PLAYERS as being superhuman -- since they are -- this is still a misguided, poorly executed gong show of a promotion" (, 1/3).

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