Event Marketing: Hockey is hot again

Michael Lang is president of Lang & Associates, a Toronto-based international event marketing agency with offices in Vancouver, Montreal and Atlanta.Kirsten Armitage is an account executive with Lang & Associates, and co-ordinator for the Event Marketing column. Contributions, ideas, media releases...

Michael Lang is president of Lang & Associates, a Toronto-based international event marketing agency with offices in Vancouver, Montreal and Atlanta.

Kirsten Armitage is an account executive with Lang & Associates, and co-ordinator for the Event Marketing column. Contributions, ideas, media releases and feedback should be directed to Kirsten at (416) 229-0060 or fax (416) 229-1210.

Now that the National Hockey League has resolved its labor problems, it can get back to the business of promoting, in the words of The New York Times, a sport that is ‘hip,’ ‘sexy’ and ‘cutting-edge.’

The sport of hockey is getting ready to soar. Under the marketing-oriented leadership of league commissioner Gary Bettman, the nhl will attempt to increase its fan base.

The strategy? Developing programs and implementing marketing initiatives that expand the scope of hockey beyond its traditional base of ‘ice hockey’ – adult males 18+ in North American markets with winter climates.

In recent years, the league has developed and conducted a number of innovative marketing programs, including: the Nike Youth Street Hockey Program, Coca-Cola/NHL Future Stars Program (a grassroots youth ice hockey program), NHL Breakout Off-Ice Tour ’95 and the NHL International Challenge (pre-season games in Europe.)

All of these programs attempt to bring variations of the sport to different audiences in order to broaden the fan base.

The Nike Youth Street Hockey Program is based on the popular San Jose Sharks & Parks Program, in which community centres receive free street hockey equipment, along with instruction and rule books.

In the u.s., the lack of arenas is a barrier to participation, so the program is used as a means of introducing children to the ‘sport’ of hockey.

Once made aware of the sport, the nhl hopes the natural progression is for the children to start following their local nhl team.

In Canada, this program is being conducted in Toronto, with the Maple Leafs, throughout the city’s community centres. The program capitalizes on Canadians’ affinity towards street hockey and gives children who don’t play ice hockey the chance to participate in the sport they already follow.

The NHL Breakout Off-Ice Tour ’95, which begins this summer in eight nhl markets, capitalizes on the inline skating phenomenon.

The weekend-long program will include a round-robin inline skating and street hockey tournaments and a variety of inline skating clinics. This program is aimed at youth and adults.

The nhl has also increased its exposure by securing a television agreement with the Fox Television network and expanding into the u.s. sunbelt region.

The National Hockey League Players Association is also helping out by promoting the stars of the nhl through the launch of a television show that will air on ESPN2 and will mimic the National Basketball Association’s Inside Stuff.

The nhl has cleverly broadened the definition of hockey, and by doing so has widened its audience. Corporate sponsors will no doubt benefit from the league’s marketing activities.