SBJ/May 28-June 3, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Fan vote for ‘NHL 13’ poised to pass ‘Madden’

The NHL, EA Sports and mobile sponsor BlackBerry have combined on an unlikely grassroots marketing success story, surpassing more than 19.5 million fan votes in a campaign to pick the cover athlete for “NHL 13.”

The voting for the “NHL 13” cover athlete will wind up during the Stanley Cup Final.
The online campaign for the hockey game, set to be released Sept. 11, on the surface is similar to those conducted in recent years for other EA Sports titles, including “Madden NFL” and “NCAA Football.” But the fan vote total for “NHL 13,” with two rounds still to go, is poised to pass the record 19.7 million fan votes in the campaign for the “Madden NFL 13” cover.

The “NHL 13” effort has posted its total despite holding only a fraction of the popularity of “Madden NFL,” which sells more than 5 million copies each year, and without the broad promotional platform of ESPN, which was a partner in the football effort.

“This has frankly become much bigger than any of us thought it would be,” said Keith Wachtel, NHL senior vice president of corporate sales and marketing.

The reason behind the unexpected success, executives involved say, is a potent blend of timing, in which the “NHL 13” cover vote, unlike other titles, was positioned during its sport’s real-world playoffs; active promotion through several league-controlled media platforms, including NHL.com and the NHL Network; and high levels of engagement from players and teams.

Many cover candidates, including Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin and Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux, have posted YouTube videos and conducted aggressive social media campaigns with an aim of driving up votes.

“The amount of support we’ve received from the individual clubs and players has been a huge boost,” said David Le, EA Sports director of marketing.

“It’s also been immensely helpful that we’re doing this just as the sport is experiencing its highest fan interest of the year.”

The voting campaign is also providing the NHL with new consumer names for its marketing database. More than 200,000 registrants for the vote have never before registered for an NHL promotion, and nearly half of those people have opted in to receive additional messages from the league. Roughly one-third of all votes have come from Canadian fans, with almost all of the rest from the United States.

The winner of the “NHL 13” cover vote will be announced June 20. The championship vote between the final two candidates will be held between Tuesday and next Monday, a period encompassing Games 1-3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“The vote is happening earlier than our usual marketing for the game, but it actually creates a lot of momentum going into [important industry conference] E3 in June and then our normal ramp-up prior to launch,” Le said.

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