How The NHL CMO Is Bringing Hockey Fever To The Desert

In 2017, the National Hockey League debuted its newest franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

But not only did the NHL have to localize its message in a new market, it had the bigger challenge of reaching a digital-first fan base.

Which means NHL CMO Heidi Browning, who is tasked with expanding interest and audiences for professional hockey, has to skate where the puck is going.

But hockey had a cultural barrier, Browning said last week at the Forrester Consumer Marketing conference in New York.

America might have bigger sports markets than Canada, but hockey, unlike football and baseball, isn’t an entrenched sport. That’s especially true for someplace warm like Florida – which nonetheless has two NHL franchises.

And it applies to Las Vegas as well.

Moreover, Las Vegas has a high ratio of visitors to residents.

“You’re competing with [shows like] Celine Dion, so you have to cut through the noise and show that hockey is a great entertainment option,” Browning said. 

But converting those people into fans poses other challenges.

Other professional sports leagues like the National Football League and Major League Baseball are more athlete-driven and can market individual players, who build their own brand identities on platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

But hockey players are on and off the ice quickly and don’t maintain huge social media presences, making it difficult to showcase individual players.

Naturally, improving digital and social strategy at the player level is among the NHL’s key marketing priorities.

“We’re encouraging our athletes to get more involved and build that personal connection to fans,” Browning said.

The league’s big push is to personalize players and to create a more interactive – versus broadcast – approach to social distribution.

While each team manages its own marketing and CRM strategy, since fan interests vary widely by region and age group, those clubs coordinate their own efforts with the NHL’s league-wide marketing organization.

“We’re trying to evolve our content and showcase our players and their stories more because many players aren’t on social media themselves,” Browning said.

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