SBJ/Nov. 8-14, 2010/This Week's Issue

NHL launching interactive Facebook app

One week after passing the 1 million follower mark on Facebook, the NHL is launching its first interactive application for members of the social network. The application, called the BlackBerry All-Access Pregame, allows users to watch video segments from NHL.com’s popular All-Access broadband show and also lets fans rank NHL teams based on performance.

The application is sponsored by BlackBerry as part of a cross-channel digital deal with the league, which declined to list a value for the partnership.

“NHL.com has been living particularly well on Facebook. Our followers are our über-fans; they really break the mold,” said Perry Cooper, senior vice president of the NHL’s digital and direct marketing. “We knew that we have to have an [application] that was video-centric and that allowed our fans to voice their opinions through polling.”


The new app comes after six months of rapid
growth on Facebook for the league, helped
by the launch of a “Like” button on NHL.com.

The new application comes after six months of rapid growth on Facebook for the league, which launched its Facebook page in July 2009. Early traffic on the league’s Facebook page was slow, and by November 2009 the NHL had gained only 194,000 followers. But continuous promotion of the page — combined with the April 21 launch of a “Like” button on NHL.com — contributed to an explosion of followers through the spring and summer. According to the league, Facebook is now the No. 1 referral website for NHL.com, other than search engine websites such as Yahoo! and Google. And according to metrics released by the NHL, Facebook users who linked to NHL.com consumed content in a greater capacity than other visitors. When compared to direct NHL.com visitors in monthly user metrics, Facebook users scored higher in average visits (7 to 3), video starts (12.1 to 5.8), articles read (4.8 to 1.5) and total minutes per visit (41.4 to 12.5).

Cooper said Facebook users helped increase NHL.com’s unique-visitor count for the month of October by 30 percent over last year’s number for the opening month of the season.

Justin Osofsky, director of media partnerships at Facebook, said the NHL’s new application is the tip of the iceberg for the league’s potential with the social network. The NBA leads the major leagues in social networking through Facebook, with more than 5 million followers. The NFL recently broke the 2 million mark.

“Sports leagues have used the connection to give special promotions to their followers and to bring the conversation about sports closer,” Osofsky said. “I live in San Francisco, and the experience I had [through Facebook for the World Series, with the MLB Giants] is close to being in the ballpark.”

Typical NHL Facebook posts ask fans to agree or disagree with statements about team or player performance, or to comment on predictions for the outcome of a game. The network broadcasts these posts to friends of each person who posts a comment.

Cooper said the league has experimented with direct promotions through the website, giving merchandise discounts through
NHL.com’s store. For now, Cooper said the league will continue to use its Facebook site predominantly to generate traffic on
NHL.com and for creating future partnerships for applications. Sources close to the league said the NHL is negotiating high-five-figure amounts for partnerships for future Facebook applications.

“We’ve done a lot in a short time. We weren’t organized well enough to realize the opportunity with Facebook before now,” Cooper said. “We had elements of this connectivity before, but we knew we had to seize upon this opportunity now.”

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