Reaching a Wider Audience

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.


The NHL and MLB.TV

Staying on the topic of partnerships, the NHL introduced a new partnership this season (2015-16) with Major League Baseball Advanced Media. While NHL GameCenter Live was once an entity solely of the National Hockey League, it has now handed over its online streaming to MLBAM. Much like the partnership with Adidas, this is a huge victory for the NHL. Major League Baseball is perhaps the most popular sports league in America, and its online streaming, MLB.TV, is a huge success. The NHL turned over its digital marketing, including the website development, to the MLBAM. In doing so, the NHL has gained digital media from a well-established sports marketing institution, meaning that the content and design is well-suited for the target audiences. In terms of revenue, the NHL has tapped in to new markets with this partnership. There was a deal for fans to purchase MLB.TV and NHL GameCenter Live as a package available to U.S. residents for a one-time fee of $139.95. This package gives fans full access to streaming any NHL or MLB game. This is especially useful for fans wanting to watch out-of-market broadcasts. Since the MLB has a much larger fan base than the NHL, this package deal allowed the NHL to reach new audiences by allowing the tandem purchase of MLB.TV and NHL GameCenter Live. Fans of the MLB who regularly purchase an MLB.TV subscription, could also gain access to NHL games, perhaps exposing them to a league they did not necessarily follow as heavily. This opportunity allowed the NHL to gain new fans, or at least entice a larger amount of people to purchase an NHL GameCenter Live subscription. It seems that the NHL is making great strides in partnerships that benefit the league’s marketing efforts.

NHL Adidas Jerseys

In the fall of 2015, the National Hockey League announced that it had signed a seven-year contract with Adidas beginning in 2017-18, making Adidas the official outfitter of NHL uniforms. In other words, beginning in the 2017-18 season, Adidas will be making all of the jerseys for the NHL. Adidas has traditionally been linked with soccer (football), but will now be making its way into hockey. From a marketing standpoint, this seems like a huge victory for the National Hockey League. Jerseys are the highest selling piece of merchandise for the NHL, and linking such a global brand as Adidas with those uniforms should help continue that trend, if not bolster it. The NHL has perhaps the smallest U.S. following of any of the four major sports, and perhaps introducing Adidas into the fold could increase merchandising sales. Furthermore, the NHL can utilize Adidas as a marketing tool, or perhaps partner, as Adidas clearly has been able to capture a wide global audience. Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated that he’s “thrilled by the resources Adidas will dedicate to the partnership.”

Some fans are fearing that Adidas will try to introduce corporate advertisements onto the NHL jerseys. Adidas has done that with many soccer teams, such as Premier League teams, however Gary Bettman addressed this claim in September stating that “The history, tradition and respect that goes with NHL sweaters is something that we and Adidas are very respectful of.” While jersey advertisements could bring in tons of revenue and marketing opportunities for the NHL, it seems best to honor the current fan base by keeping advertisements off of jerseys. While breaking into new markets and gaining new fans is important, it is also important to maintain and keep current fans happy.

Overall, the NHL jersey partnership with Adidas seems to be a great marketing move for the NHL. A large, global brand such as Adidas can bring many resources and opportunities to the table for the NHL to help grow the NHL brand, as well as the Adidas brand.