For the first time in 46 years, the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs do not feature a team from Canada. All seven Canadian-based teams failed to qualify for the playoffs this season, as opposed to last season when five of seven made an appearance. As a result, the viewership for this year’s playoffs is down 60% in Canada. Canada is a huge market for hockey and the NHL, so while Canada’s Sportsnet executive is “disappointed but not panicked,” it seems there is cause for concern, at least from a marketing perspective. The poor viewership in Canada can have negative implications for the NHL’s partnerships and sponsors for Canadian television networks. If all seven Canadian teams fail to reach the postseason again next year, there could be some hesitation from companies to provide sponsorships or engage in partnerships with the Stanley Cup playoffs next season. So what can the NHL do to help engage the Canadian audience in this year’s playoffs? As mentioned in a previous post, one of the most valuable marketing chips a sports entity holds are the athletes themselves. The NHL needs to utilize its Canadian-born stars that are still competing in the playoffs to market to the Canadian audience. Many players who have represented Canada at international competitions are still currently competing with their American-based NHL teams for the Stanley Cup. Prime examples of these players include Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars), Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks), John Tavares (New York Islanders), and even Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos who may return to the playoffs after injury if the Lightning can stay in the playoffs long enough. These players all have deep roots in Canada, and can be used as a promotional and marketing device to entice Canadian viewers to watch the playoffs. So while Canadian networks may not be “panicked” about the down viewership in this year, I believe it is a cause for concern. But due to Canada’s huge presence in the NHL, there are plenty of marketable players available who can help draw in Canadian viewers if the NHL promotes and markets them properly.
The NHL has arguably the least diverse fan base of any of the four major professional sports leagues (NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB) in America. 68% of the fan base is men, 92% of the fans are white/Caucasian, and over 50% of the fan base makes over $75,000 a year, making NHL fans the richest (and whitest) fan base in America. What causes this lack of diversity, and what can the NHL do to reach a wider range of demographics? I feel that part of the problem lies with the sport itself. Hockey is an expensive sport to get involved with. Leagues fees can range anywhere between $500 and $2000, while equipment itself falls between $1000 and $2000. This is especially expensive for children, who continually grow out of their equipment year after year. I believe that this is part of the reason that the NHL has the richest fans. Another problem lies with the demographics of the players. Most NHL players are white; there are a handful of African-American players, and virtually no Hispanic or Asian players. It can be difficult for different ethnicities to get hooked on to a sport where their cultures/ethnicities have little to no representation. So again, this begs the question, what can the NHL do to reach a wider audience?
For starters, I think the World Cup of Hockey debuting this September could help. This can create a sense of national pride, much like the FIFA World Cup, perhaps encouraging other nations to get involved with the sport, and eventually the competition. Having the World Cup will also help at least gain exposure in other global markets. Another idea could stem from the organizations and its players. One example I have in mind could be for teams and players to do community outreach, and perhaps host free camps or clinics for their community’s youth. This could particularly be beneficial with inner city populations, perhaps seen in larger cities with larger minority populations such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Incorporating free camps, or player outreach to these populations, could promote the sport amongst wider ethnic populations, and diversify not only the fans of the sport, but also its participants. Another area that needs to be addressed is the number of female audience members. While the NHL has a higher percentage of female fans than the MLB and NBA, it is significantly behind the NFL. To gain more female fans, the NHL could sell more of a family experience. For example, the MLB has a lot of successes with kid’s clubs, which the NHL could create and/or expand on. The creation of the new professional women’s hockey league could be a stepping-stone to adding more female fans to the sport. The NHL should partner with the women’s professional league and help that league expand to new hockey markets and gain more fans.
These are just some ideas of how the NHL could expand its audience. Obviously there are tons ideas that can be suggested, this is just my personal perspective on the issue.