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Volume 21 No. 34
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NHL launches marketing campaign around upcoming playoffs

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Buoyed by strong attendance and TV ratings for a lockout-shortened regular season that cost each team 34 games, or 41 percent of its usual 82-game schedule, the NHL is launching a postseason marketing campaign this week. The Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 30.

The campaign retains the “Because it’s the Cup” tag line, designed to attract casual fans, but was formulated with a new agency, Mono, Minneapolis. DraftFCB worked on last year’s campaign. Mono has MSNBC and NBA TV on its client roster.

“The campaign worked,” said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of marketing for the league. “We saw increased ratings and digital consumption. There was a lot of media speculation about irreparable brand damage because of the lockout, but look at our attendance and ratings and you see that hasn’t happened. We still need to get our ‘every game every night’ [on a national cable network] promise out there, and the playoffs are vital as we build to the return of a full season next year.’’

John Miller, NBC Sports Group CMO, said the size of the campaign was roughly the same as last year. Aside from being shown in and around hockey broadcasts, the campaign will be on NBC Universal networks, including Golf Channel, NBC Sports Network, CNBC and MSNBC. Cable and digital buys off NBC Universal-owned properties also support the campaign.

“You had some frustrated NHL fans,” said Miller, “but with the shortened season, like the NBA last year, you had a compressed season with more meaningful games and fans with pent-up demand to watch their sport, which has worked in our favor.”

While there will be team and playoff-specific ads, the campaign begins with five spots. An ad titled “First Kiss” highlights the nervousness and emotions of players and fans, while “Characters” showcases player personalities, “Ding Ding” emphasizes NHL players in the postseason, “Weird” celebrates the excitement evident in NHL rinks during the Stanley Cup playoffs, and “One Up” features the world-class skills of NHL players.

NHL corporate partners, including MillerCoors, Molson Coors, Verizon, Discover and Pepsi, are expected to use the theme in their own campaigns, but marketing efforts requiring long lead times, like on-pack branding, were lost because of the lockout. Supporting point-of-sale ads will be placed in the NHL and NBC stores in New York and in sports specialty retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Modell’s.

As for ad sales, NBC says advertiser interest around the Stanley Cup playoffs is better than it was expecting.

“If you had asked me about [Stanley Cup playoff] ad sales four months ago, my knees would have been knocking,” said Seth Winter, executive vice president of NBC Sports Group’s sales and marketing division. However, playoff telecasts are 65 percent sold, with the network intentionally holding back inventory for the second-quarter scatter market. NBC has seen price increases in the high single digits.

As with the NBA last year, the NHL has seen ratings gains during the lockout-shortened season. The NHL is on pace to have its most-watched season so far on NBC Sports Network. Ratings for games on NBC are up about 10 percent.