Last Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup, the championship trophy for the National Hockey League (NHL). The fourth biggest sport in the US behind football, baseball and basketball, NHL doesn’t really register in these parts compared to its more familiar cousins. But that is not to say it is not a big deal. A very big deal. A total of 38.8 million viewers tuned into watch the Stanley Cup Finals (USA) with a peak of 11 million watching the Blackhawks clinch the title in game six. Simply put, against stiff competition from the NBA, NFL, MLB and increasingly, MLS, these numbers indicate that the NHL is doing something right with its marketing. But it wasn’t always the case.
The NHL needed to find a way to compete for viewership with the other professional sports leagues. It recognised that its 2010 campaign, History Will Be Made, resonated with hard-core fans but failed to ignite the interest of those more passive towards hockey. The challenge was to find a way to connect with younger and more casual fans in order to increase viewership and overall interest in the sport.
Early in the 2011-2012 season the NHL hosted focus groups to gauge the feelings of casual fans. They quickly discovered that most people were unable to list the best players on the best teams in the league. This meant that player-centric advertisements would have a hard time resonating with fans. In 2012, using the new insight, the NHL embarked on an ad campaign titled Because It’s the Cup. The campaign focused on the main reasons to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs rather than focusing on individual players. For example, tapping into the emotion of the competition, the passion of players and fans and the commitment it takes to succeed. These are attributes most people can identify with. The campaign was driven by the hashtag: #BecauseItsTheCup.
Over 128 million viewers have watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2012. This month alone #BecauseItsTheCup, which the NHL has not promoted during these playoffs, has been used over 100,000 times, with nearly 36,000 mentions the night of game six. This success of the campaign is based on simple insight gained from primary research and has led to a growth in viewership and partnerships such including the well publicised deal with GoPro and subsequent campaign titled My Playoffs Moment, which has also been successful in its own right. Closer to home we have seen how a campaign can catch fire when based on sound insight. AIB’s #Thetoughest has not only resonated with fans but also with players, media and GAA. #Thetoughest is now widely used giving immense credibility to AIB and the GAA Club Championships. The NHL and AIB are two examples that proves how thorough research really does reap rewards.
Written by: Christopher Doherty
Credits: ‘Because It’s The Cup’: Will the NHL’s courtship of casual fans make Stanley Cup Playoffs a social success? (Yahoo Sports)