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Volume 20 No. 42
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NBC turns ‘summit’ spotlight on NHL

Holding an oversize bucket of popcorn, the New York Islanders’ Jordan Eberle slowly plucked single kernels and popped them into his mouth, mimicking the GIFs shared across Twitter and other social media networks.

Moments later, he was answering questions: “All dressed chips,” he said when asked his favorite snack food, referring to a flavor popular in Canada. “I could eat a whole bag in one sitting.”

Then he was handed a confetti firecracker to pop into a camera lens.

The Oilers’ Connor McDavid gets ready for his close-up.Please enter image description here.
Photo by: IAN THOMAS / STAFF
This was not your usual preseason snack. Eberle was one of 33 players from across the league’s 31 teams who were taking part in the first NHL marketing summit, held by NBC Sports Group at its campus in Stamford, Conn., last Thursday.

NBC has always conducted preseason interviews and photo shoots with players, typically alongside the NHL’s player media tour, which also took place last week at the league’s New York City headquarters. But the new event was a concerted effort to showcase the players’ personalities in more creative ways.

In one of NBC Sports’ studios, Vegas Golden Knight Marc-Andre Fleury played table tennis with NBC Sports anchor Jeremy Roenick as the two talked about the sport and their hobbies. On the sheet of ice over at the Chelsea Piers sports complex — attached to the NBC Sports campus — Washington Capitals Braden Holtby faced shots from three youth hockey players at once, as well as some trash talk.

It in some ways mimicked the weeklong marketing summit the network has held in West Hollywood, Calif., prior to the last six Olympics. Players participated in activities ranging from a traditional sit-down interview with NBC Sports anchors Liam McHugh or Kathryn Tappen to the more social- and digital-focused round of questioning that Eberle was going through.

“This is all about showcasing the top players in the world in a fun and exciting environment,” said Sam Flood, executive producer and president of products at NBC and NBCSN. “Whether it’s Connor McDavid playing pingpong with Jeremy Roenick, or Patrick Kane on the ice with local youth hockey players, the goal is to highlight the personalities of the NHL’s current and future superstars to fans across the country.”

The content created from the two-day event will be spread across NBCUniversal channels as the season begins on Oct. 4. Interviews will run alongside games featuring the players’ teams on NBCSN. Digital shorts will appear online, and GIFs like the ones created during the sessions that Eberle took part in will be used playfully alongside NHL updates and content on social media.
The summit also allowed the network to capture player content based around coming league tentpole events such as the Winter Classic and All-Star Game. The cost of hosting the summit was not disclosed.

“It’s unbelievably valuable to be able to get the players in so many different lights like this,” said Steve Mayer, NHL chief content officer. “We want our fans to get to know the players even better, and some of that has to be in fun situations. Sometimes it’s those little moments where someone says, ‘Hey, I didn’t realize that guy had that great smile or that sense of humor’ that makes them a fan.”

NBC Sports’ director of consumer engagement marketing, Dan Palla, who was overseeing much of the content creation at the summit, said the network took notice of all the buzzworthy elements of the Nashville Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last year — whether it was the catfish, the anthem singers or the city itself — and is looking to build upon that. “We will always make sure to serve the core audience of the league, but we also want to see if we can do some different things that can reverberate even higher and help grow the game.”

NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire, who was working with the youth players and the NHL stars on the ice, said he was impressed by the excitement the players had for the summit. “All the guys know we need to sell the game together,” he said. “I sent a text to [Chicago Blackhawks President] John McDonough after seeing Patrick Kane out there skating with the kids. This is the exact thing we need to be doing.”