SBJ/20081117/SBJ In-Depth

League strategy: Be everywhere relevant

The NHL does not generate any direct revenue from its Facebook page, where more than 44,000 fans have officially signed up to communicate, debate, share videos and engage in a range of other social-networking activities. And that all is just fine with league executives.

“For us, it’s really more about having another tool to expand our reach and scale, and continuing to be wherever people are on the Internet, and giving them the tools and the platform to be heard,” said André Mika, NHL senior vice president and head of new media programming.

To that end, the league has taken a more hands-off approach to its official Facebook page, allowing fans to populate much of the site through postings of messages, photos, fan videos and other content. Official materials such as highlight videos, content from the league’s YouTube channel and news feeds take on a more supplementary role.

The thinking stands in stark contrast to NHL.com, which last month debuted a drastically altered new look and digital content plan that was more than a year in development and represents a major part of the league’s overall media strategy.

“What we do is help populate the area by porting pieces of NHL.com into Facebook, and allowing fans to do the same, with the same going for other places such as MySpace, Digg and Del.icio.us,” Mika said. “It’s now sort of become its own self-sustaining thing, which is really cool to see.”

Facebook is just one part of the NHL’s effort
to have a blanket presence on the Internet.

The NHL’s placement on social media networks also is in keeping with a be-everywhere-relevant policy that in the last several years has seen alignments with more than a dozen outlets including Joost, Verizon Wireless and Sling Media.

Some other leagues, meanwhile, have made their Facebook pages take more of an official look and feel to more closely mirror their flagship digital properties, at least within the design limitations of the Facebook platform. The NBA, for example, has outfitted its pages with a prominent placement of its marketing slogan, “Where Amazing Happens,” player photos, direct links to purchase tickets and out-of-market packages, and promotions for upcoming telecasts. Fans have not rebelled, though, as more than 304,000 people have signed up to be official fans on the page.

MLB Advanced Media, baseball’s digital media arm, took on more of a developer role with regard to Facebook, developing the MLB.com Fanbook, an application that combines elements from MLB.com itself, such as scores and ticket purchasing, with traditional social-networking functions such as ballpark meet-ups and trash-talking over specific teams.

So what is the end result of the league entries into social media? The general consensus is that such efforts are helping deepen fan ties, particularly among all-important younger demographic groups.

“This is something our marketing and research folks are looking into as we speak. Our sales guys are obviously very eager to know what comes of it,” Mika said. “But looking at this more anecdotally, I definitely believe we expanded our demographics by opening up like we have to social media. This is and is going to be a huge deal for us.”

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