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Volume 21 No. 26
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Playoff playlist: NHL’s postseason songs give artists exposure

At the top of the telecast for Game 3 of the first-round playoff series between Pittsburgh and Columbus last week, NBC Sports Network pumped up the drama with a 15-second medley of goals, saves and hits — all to the tune of a new song by Phillip Phillips called “Raging Fire.”

Phillip Phillips’ “Raging Fire” was seen as “on the verge” and hockey appropriate.

Atop the sound of driving acoustic guitars and the beat of pounding drums, viewers heard Phillips singing:

Come out, come out, come out
Won’t you turn my soul
Into a raging fire

The television viewing audience got an energetic prelude to the game.

Phillips, the 2012 winner of “American Idol,” got national TV exposure for his song.

None of it happened by accident.

For the second consecutive year, the NHL and its broadcast partners this spring have licensed music for storytelling elements in telecasts during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Deals were made for seven songs (see box below).

“It’s a great way to get our artists’ music in front of big audiences,” said Adrian Amodeo, senior director of film, television and strategic partnerships for Interscope, the record label that licensed four of this year’s playoff songs to the NHL.

Said Brian Jennings, NHL executive vice president and chief marketing officer, “When combined with sports, music is a very powerful elixir. For us, music plays an important role in the marketing mix.”

Among his labelmates, Phillips stands to benefit most from the exposure this year. The other three Interscope songs licensed for the playoffs — “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic, “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons and “Survival” by Eminem — are already hits. Interscope executives, led by Vice Chairman Steve Berman; Anthony Seyler, vice president of film and television marketing; and Amodeo, recommended that the NHL consider the Phillips song along with the three established ones.

“The league asked us, ‘What do you have that’s on the verge that also works well for hockey?’” Amodeo recalled. “That’s how Phillip’s song entered the conversation. It was a good deal for everyone. Phillip loves the NHL, so he was really excited to be part of it.”

Financial details were not disclosed, but Amodeo confirmed that a licensing fee was paid. “Whenever we’re putting music to media, there is a fee,” he said. “These deals aren’t gratis.”

A source familiar with music licensing deals in pro sports said the cost to the NHL would be “nominal.” But the exposure for the musicians and their record labels: that’s significant.

With the deals, the NHL has the rights to use the seven tracks (and their corresponding music videos) in all playoff game broadcasts through the Stanley Cup Final. The songs can be played on any of NBC’s networks broadcasting playoff games, as well as NHL Network, CBC, TSN/TSN2 and RDS.

Regional sports networks that are the rights holders for playoff teams, such as MSG Network for the New York Rangers, also have access to the songs, so those playoff teams can use the songs and their videos in-arena during games as well.

The agreements took effect April 15 (the day before the playoffs began) and end with the last game of the Stanley Cup Final.

Eminem’s “Survival” is already a hit, but his manager likes placing songs on NHL broadcasts. 

Each use on television and on arena scoreboards is noted with the name of the song, the artist and the label. The artists have to approve the deals, but they usually welcome the showcasing of their songs before the targeted audiences.

In the case of Eminem, his manager, Paul Rosenberg, is a known hockey fan and a proponent of placing songs on NHL broadcasts, and Eminem favors having his music used in support of his hometown Red Wings, who qualified for the playoffs this season for the 23rd straight year. (More recently, Eminem’s song “Berzerk” was featured this fall for ABC’s Saturday night football broadcasts.)

OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” was licensed by the NHL for last year’s playoffs before it became a hit last summer — reaching No. 1 on the Billboard chart in Canada, No. 2 in the U.S. — and is back for an encore run.

Song selection and licensing agreements are made for the NHL by Jennings; Keith Wachtel, executive vice president of global partnerships; and Nirva Milord, director of communications and entertainment publicity, who is the point person for receiving song pitches. According to Jennings, the league gets hundreds of submissions throughout the season from record labels looking to showcase their artists’ music.

“We usually narrow a list down and take it to our broadcast partners for consideration,” Jennings said. “We ask the people at places like NBC and CBC, ‘Here are 12 or 15 songs we really like and are culturally relevant. What do you think? Can you see hockey footage juxtaposing well with these songs?’”

Once the songs are selected and licensed by the NHL, the networks are free to use them as they wish.

“It’s a major benefit to our production and promotion,” said Bill Bergofin, senior vice president of marketing at NBC Sports Group. “Popular music helps us further connect emotionally with our audience. We’re thrilled with the NHL’s efforts to license this music. It’s a demonstration of the benefits of our partnership.”

In addition to working with the NHL as well as individual teams in the league, Interscope also has forged music licensing agreements for its artists’ music with the NBA, NFL, MLB and WWE.

With the NHL going forward, the label hopes to discuss its musicians performing at major events like the Stanley Cup Final, the Winter Classic and Stadium Series games. To date, NHL on-site performances have been limited to musicians performing the national anthem (such as the Zac Brown Band for this year’s Winter Classic) and select pregame performances (such as Kiss, who played before the Stadium Series game in Los Angeles).

“These songs are a good start,” Amodeo said. “Our hope is to make this a bigger relationship.”


The songs licensed by the NHL for use in this year's playoffs:

"Radioactive" — Imagine Dragons (Interscope)

"Counting Stars" — OneRepublic (Interscope)

"Raging Fire" — Phillip Phillips (Interscope)

"Survival" — Eminem (Interscope)

"Best Day of My Life" — American Authors (Island Records)

"City of Angels" — Thirty Seconds to Mars (Capitol Music Group)

"Moments Like This"— The Afters (Fair Trade Services)