The NHL is hoping to secure a larger fan base with the ultimate sports business goal in mind: selling sports as entertainment.
At the Business of Hockey panel hosted by the USC Sports Business Institute, the first installment of its “Business of Team Sports” series, Luc Robitaille, Los Angeles Kings President of Business Operations, and Michael Schulman, Anaheim Ducks CEO, gave an audience of 250 guests an inside look at the NHL’s business future.
For starters, the NHL is adapting an event/star-focused promotional strategy. The sport has been plagued by headgear issues and a fast pace that make it difficult to market individual stars. But Robitaille suggested that now, “the league has changed its mentality where they’re trying to promote stars, they’re trying to promote big events.”
The NHL has also made attempts to make games more attractive for casual fans. The league’s outdoor Winter Classics and Stadium Series have boosted viewership, and despite a Winter Classic record-low 2.3 rating, this year’s match-up still attracted 77 percent more viewers than typical regular-season games.
However, Schulman cautioned that it’s incumbent on the league to not only “get the attention of the occasional fan,” but also to “take that introduction, get them to our arena and show them live games.” Attention for highly marketed outdoor events is “good, but that doesn’t make a fan base.”
The NHL needs TV viewers to attend games because spectators get one-of-a-kind entertainment value that could convert them into long-term fans. The entertaining nature of live NHL games is one of the many reasons the league has received little resistance from hockey fans regarding ticket prices; fans have accepted price increases that outpace the other professional leagues and pay the second-highest average ticket price.
In an attempt to generate fan interest, the Kings are conducting a limited test on broadcasting select games at local TV theaters through a partnership with NBC Sports. This isn’t the first time live games have been shown in theaters, and it’s part of NBC Sports’ bigger movie theater strategy, which includes broadcasting some of this season’s Premier League games at select theaters.
The panelists agreed that one of the most effective ways to secure fan interest in the NHL is through developing an interest in hockey when fans are younger, an especially difficult challenge for two teams competing with Southern California’s multiple entertainment options including: other professional teams, Hollywood entertainment, and warm weather/beaches.
You can follow Nick on Twitter at @Nick_Zobel.