SBD/January 30, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL COO John Collins Has Helped Build Global Brand, Taken League Into 21st Century

Collins helped launch HBO's "24/7" to generate interest in Winter Classic
The NHL is Commissioner Gary Bettman's "fiefdom," and it "has been ever since 19 years ago he walked in and ... dragged the league into the late 20th century," but NHL COO John Collins "has been the jet fuel, taking it into the 21st century," according to Michael Farber of SI.com. While the "lawyerly Bettman generally is about taking things step by step, Collins, the business guy, breathlessly rushes to the next thing, pushing, mining for opportunity." Collins helped turn the Winter Classic "into a phenomenon, at least in relative terms." He also helped launch HBO's "24/7," and the NHL's "media and digital revolution also has his fingerprints all over it." Collins, who was "involved in the creation of HBO's 'Hard Knocks' series, saw the possibility of slowing down the hurly-burly of the hockey season and telling stories, especially ones that dovetail with the games the league most wants you to see." Since Collins joined the league from the NFL in November '06, the NHL's "value has grown by about $1 billion." Collins said that the "strategy of events -- season openers in Europe, a heavily promoted national game [on] Thanksgiving Friday that began this year, the hullabaloo surrounding the New Year's (or thereabouts) outdoor game, the so-called Fantasy Draft and revamping of the All-Star format -- 'gives us an opportunity to reach out beyond our core fan base, the casual fans. It's a long season, and the events (are something) in which all the forces can sort of rally around.'" Making the NHL a "global brand like, say, the Barclay's Premier League might be as arduous a task as Sisyphus pushing a Rosetta Stone up the hill, but it is miles from the league not even a half-century removed from the so-called Original 6" (SI.com, 1/28). 

A NEW FOCUS: In Toronto, Kevin McGran reported the NHL "used to operate on a star system," but the league now "follows a different path, one forged by the NFL, the behemoth when it comes to sports marketing." Instead of focusing on "stars, it focuses on the game, the event." Univ. of Ottawa associate professor of sports business Norman O'Reilly said of yesterday's All-Star Game, "It would be naïve to say the loss of Crosby and Ovechkin doesn’t hurt (but) you’ll probably see ratings that are as good as last year. That’s evidence of success in marketing." Florida-based Sports & Sponsorship President Scott Becher said, "It’s important to market players, but first come the fundamentals and tweaking the game to be more fan friendly. It’s working." McGran noted the NHL "benefited by hiring" Collins, and the league, "by luck or design, has its very successful Winter Classic." There are "other things the league has done beyond the Winter Classic, like its '24/7' show on HBO and its in-house NHL.com (now in multiple languages) to reach fans in underserved areas." The league is also "big on social media." O’Reilly said that videos "explaining suspensions -- released online and via Twitter -- by NHL vice-president Brendan Shanahan may well be an unintended stroke of genius, appealing to the water-cooler crowd" (TORONTO STAR, 1/29).
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