SBJ/September 26-October 2, 2011/In-Depth

Players give their take on marketing, TV

League and agency reps aren’t the only people in the NHL who think about how to market hockey — players do as well. Whether it’s trying to decide which stick to endorse, or how to better connect with fans, hockey players have their own opinions on how best to market their sport. We caught up with Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Philadelphia Flyers center Max Talbot, and New York Islanders center John Tavares to get their thoughts.

What was your first endorsement, and how did you feel as a player to become involved with sports marketing?
Jack Johnson: It was with Bauer in my first year with L.A., and it felt pretty cool to get paid to wear stuff that I already used. I signed it with one of the reps in a parking lot of a restaurant right next to the arena. Nothing special; we just got it done.

How do you think hockey players can bring the sport to a more mainstream sports audience?

Henrik Lundqvist: I think a lot of people, when they think about hockey, still think about the movie “Slap Shot,” like we are players from the 1980s with no teeth who are all quiet. My first few years in the league, the older guys didn’t really like to get in front of the camera or wear suits and do photo shoots and interviews for different companies. I think 10-15 years ago the guys didn’t want to do that part of hockey, to market yourself and the sport. Now it has changed. Younger guys have grown up with media and the Internet and feel more comfortable with that. They realize that it is part of being a hockey player.

What do players talk about in regard to the NHL on television? Did guys follow the negotiations last year with NBC?
Johnson: Guys were really talking about the [HBO] 24/7 show, and everyone thought it was awesome to see things in hockey that no one ever gets to see. I would like to see more of that because fans can actually see what a player is like. Whenever you see a hockey interview, they are almost always the same, for better or for worse. You can get a tape recorder out and just replay one hockey interview and that is what you get. I think people are bored with that, so I think the league should do more things where viewers can see hockey players for real.

We’d love to get back on ESPN and some of the other major networks. I have a lot of friends that don’t have Versus. The games they do are great, and it looks good if you have [Versus]. … But I know guys would love to be back on ESPN to get in the spotlight with other sports.

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Henrik Lundqvist said today’s players are comfortable in front of the camera.
When you are deciding to align yourself with a brand, what factors do you take into account? Is it mostly about the money?
Lundqvist: It’s a combination of things. If you play for a team, you can’t have [a sponsor] that will conflict with the organization. The money part is of course very important. But if you look at the money and then the workload of what you will have to put into the endorsement, that is another factor. You don’t want to put too much energy into something. You are a hockey player, so your No. 1 job is to have time for that. A lot of times they want you to be doing photo shoots and events and being a spokesperson for the brand, and that might be too much. And it also comes down to image, how you are presented. You want to look good.

Which players do you think have done a good job at using endorsements to further their image?
John Tavares: Obviously [Alex] Ovechkin is really good at being outgoing and connecting with people. I think [Sidney] Crosby has also done a good job. He relates to kids in Canada by being a great player and getting them to want to be players, too. He’s the hard-working guy. [Jonathan] Toews is in that similar category. I’m a little bit of a shy guy, but I’m working on being more outgoing. I like to show the way I do my equipment with [equipment supplier] CCM.

What is an example of a local sponsorship that helped promote your image?
Max Talbot: My first year I did a commercial for the local BMW dealership with [Evgeni] Malkin and Sergei Gonchar and Colby Armstrong, because they were my friends and I had done business with them. I had greasy hair and a Fu Manchu, and the commercial was so bad and yet so funny at the same time that it became very popular in Pittsburgh. It was even on Jay Leno and it got me a lot of attention, and people got to see my personality and that I like to have fun.
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Jack Johnson likes behind-the-scenes footage that highlights the personalities of hockey players.
They asked me to do a second and a third commercial.

How do you prefer to work with companies when it comes to individual sponsorships?
Johnson: I like it when a brand promotes who you are, like this player wears this skate because he is a finesse player, or uses these pads because he is physical. I’m a pretty All-American kid. I went to college and played on the U.S. national team, and that is my brand, the American kid. That’s how I’ve tried to associate myself. So with Bauer, for example, they put your face on a poster and promote the equipment you wear based on your strengths, and I like that. So you’re reaching out to young kids who play hockey and using the endorsements to grow your brand and image. It works. When I was a kid and went to the local hockey store, I didn’t buy the stick that was necessarily best for me, it was the one that had my favorite player’s name on it.
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