Thursday, October 2

Engaging Fans: Why The NHL Needs Social Media

If there was ever a sport that could benefit from increased social media exposure, it could be hockey.

Sure, the National Hockey League (NHL) has made some striking improvements to its online offerings. The Web site has made marked progress in personalizing the connections to fans, and it’s already seeing momentum with a $15 million advertising campaign being managed by Young & Rubicam.

So why more social media?

While the emphasis about social media tends to be focused on exposure, customer engagement — direct player to fan engagement in this case — is less talked about but easily the strongest counterpart to online communication. For some companies, especially those with limited customer contact points, some social media tactics increase customer contact without being as intrusive as “customer care calls” with additional plus sell incentives.

The concept is not new. One of the best findings in the original Gallup study demonstrated constant contact increased consumer loyalty.

Using the case study of the airline industry, five times the number of Southwest Airlines customers were fully engaged over United. Considering Southwest Airlines was only in the initial phases of developing a viable social media component, it’s very likely they have widened the gap.

For the National Hockey League, it almost seems too easy. Team correspondents augmented by perspective posts from players could add a real element to the sport as it strives for its comeback. The more fans feel they know a player, the more likely they will never miss a game in person, online, or on television.

Hockey might even be one of the best suited sports for it. My partner, who is an avid autograph collector, frequently mentions that NHL players are among the most accessible of any sport. Online engagement would only deepen that relationship among more fans.

On a smaller scale, it works for busy consultants and professionals too. For example, almost every accountant I’ve ever worked with has mentioned there is never enough time in the peak season to develop relationships with clients, and not enough good reasons to contact their customers the rest of the year.

It makes you wonder what would happen if accountants invested time online, providing customers tax tips all year long rather than offering postscript conversations because it’s already time to file.

The same might hold true for hockey. After all, the number one reason for many people to attend sporting events is because they already know someone on the ice. Besides all that, who wouldn't want to read a quick Tweet from the penalty box?



Geoff_Livingston on 10/2/08, 8:38 PM said...

I see NBA basketball and major league baseball doing this first. They are the most proactive sports online.

Rich on 10/2/08, 9:08 PM said...


Very true. Some NBA players are already blogging on their own. It will be interesting to see if the league will support it.


Kim on 10/3/08, 8:10 AM said...

In sports where leagues are proactive but athletes are not so much so, it won't be as successful. NBA and MLB are very forward-thinking leagues, but the majority of their players are not in touch with fans or very accessible.

I think that in order for this to be a real win for any league, for the players and for the fans, you must have players who are very accessible to the fans.

This is why the NHL will be most successful. Their players are very accessible and willing to connect with fans. Yes, the Wayne Gretzkys out there may be too busy, but I estimate 90+ percent of players are willing to sign autographs or connect with fans on some level. This goes for active AND retired players.

The other sport that understands the importance of fan/athlete interaction is NASCAR. Drivers are very accessible and almost all of them are willing to sign autographs and make time for fans. Retired drivers love to hear from their fans and respond to fan mail nearly 100 percent of the time. Again, this is from personal experience.

I think what the NHL is doing is very smart. They understand the importance of the fan/athlete connection.

Rich on 10/3/08, 12:14 PM said...


It is any wonder you've made me a Bruins fan.


Anonymous said...

Good point: the NHL is just right for social media. Unlike NASCAR fans, NHL fans have Internet access (and teeth).

Rich on 10/9/08, 1:32 PM said...


That's funny.

I was a major advocate for Brendan Gaughn to start a blog. He didn't.



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