SBJ/Nov. 18-24, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL ready for second helping of Thanksgiving

This year’s Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown is essentially a restart for the league after its earlier attempts to make the game a franchise were halted by last season’s lockout. '

“The game is positioned as a family and holiday event, and we’re just at the start,” said Brian Jennings, the NHL’s chief marketing officer.

The Nov. 29 game, on the day after Thanksgiving, features the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, on NBC. Discover returns as title sponsor, as it was for the Showdown’s debut in 2011, a game that featured Boston and Detroit. The sponsorship is part of Discover’s larger five-year partnership with the NHL.

“We see the event as a great time to engage fans as the holiday season opens,” said Jennifer Murillo, vice president of brand communications for Discover Financial Services. “The NHL and this game are excellent platforms for us.”

Neither Discover nor the NHL is tinkering much with the recipe from the 2011 game, which drew a 0.9 national rating, consistent with regular-season NHL on NBC broadcasts in January and February, before playoff races heat up.

Bobby Farrelly (left) directs Mike Richter and Cam Neely in a Thanksgiving Showdown spot. The game debuted in 2011.
Photo by: NHL IMAGES
The one major promotional change is the addition of a series of commercials directed by Bobby Farrelly, who co-directed (with his brother Peter) the blockbuster comedy films “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber.” Bobby Farrelly is a Rhode Island native and Bruins fan who has placed former Bruins star Cam Neely in cameos in some of the Farrelly brothers’ movies.

Neely, former Rangers goaltender Mike Richter and Boston-based actor Lenny Clarke (“Rescue Me”) are featured in the ads, which show Bruins and Rangers fans carrying their teams’ rivalry to Thanksgiving dinner. One of the commercials includes this exchange between family members at the table:

Bruins fan: “You don’t remember Bobby Orr flying through the air?”

Rangers fan: “He took a dive!”

Then Neely and Richter arrive at the house with dessert. Neely brings a Boston cream pie; Richter has a New York cheesecake.

“It’s a light-hearted look at a typical Thanksgiving dinner at the home of passionate NHL fans,” said Bill Bergofin, senior vice president of marketing for NBC Sports Group.

The ad series includes three 30-second spots and two 15-second spots and started running earlier this month across the TV, digital and social platforms of the NBC family of networks, along with NHL.com and NHL Social. The creative was developed by the NHL and NBC Sports, in consultation with Farrelly’s production company, Rabbit.

A float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will promote the game.
Photo by: NHL IMAGES
Neely and Richter will ride on a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float that will promote the game. The 36-by-20-foot float, returning from its use in 2011, is themed “Frozen Fall Fun” and also will have young hockey players skating on a synthetic rink, with a 12-foot-tall turkey framing a goal.

“The parade [airing on NBC] is seen by more than 40 million people every year,” Jennings said. “That’s a big opportunity to promote the Showdown and the NHL.”

The game airs at 1 p.m. ET and is NBC’s first NHL telecast of the season. The network’s next broadcast is the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, and its steady schedule of weekend games begins Jan. 19.

“The game is a bit of a perfect storm for us,” said Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “The event is a genuine tradition in the city of Boston, the day has a built-in sports audience, and we can use our Thanksgiving night NFL game to help promote our NHL coverage the following day.”

The Bruins will have hosted the first two Thanksgiving Showdown games and have a history of playing matinee home games the day after Thanksgiving. However, the NHL is not committing to Boston as the annual site of the event, similar to how Detroit and Dallas are regular hosts for NFL games on Thanksgiving Day.

“There’s nothing set in stone,” Jennings said. “We want to maintain some scheduling flexibility.”

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