New strategy boosts ad sales for NHL playoffs

New strategy boosts ad sales for NHL playoffs

By John Ourand, Staff Writer


NBC says that its Stanley Cup playoffs ad schedule is around 90 percent sold, even though the network has significantly more inventory to sell this year.

Every playoff game will be carried nationally for the first time, with newcomers CNBC and NHL Network debuting playoff coverage. All of the networks will carry exclusive games, league executives said, with local RSNs telecasting some first-round games.

Also new this year is NBC’s control over in-arena dasherboards, as they have been sold nationally for the first time. Previously, the teams controlled dasherboard sales. Now the teams only control the parts of the dasherboard that are not visible to television cameras.

“Part of what our whole business strategy has been over the past five years has been to build national scale,” said NHL COO John Collins. “The playoffs really were our biggest opportunity when we were looking at what we had to offer.”

The move to show every game nationally continues the NHL’s push to expand the Stanley Cup playoffs. Collins cited an analysis conducted for the NHL by the agency Optimum Sports to see how much the playoffs would grow if each game was televised and sold nationally. Not surprisingly, the analysis showed that the postseason still had a long runway for growth.

“The value on the playoffs is worth more than the total ad sales for the entire year,” Collins said, “That’s how big the opportunity for the Stanley Cup playoffs is.”

NBC and NHL executives say the national platform has helped the ad sales effort. But both also are quick to credit the league’s 10-year, $187 million-a-year media deal that was signed last April. As part of the deal, NBC and the NHL are selling together and, executives say, creating an ad sales environment that has made it easier for advertisers to buy across platforms.

“The manner in which we brought the Stanley Cup to the marketplace has been an epiphany for a lot of our client customer partners because it was so easy for them to do business with us,” said Seth Winter, executive vice president, NBC Sports Group sales marketing. “It’s almost like working with another division within our own company now. There’s such a sense of long-term partnership and full integration. … We’re always thinking of each other when it comes to how we approach the marketplace.”

For example, Winter referenced an unnamed nontraditional advertiser who approached NBC about running a schedule through the playoffs. The advertiser also was interested in expanding into Canada.

“In the past, that was not so easy,” Winter said. “We would make a phone call and hand it off. Now we can go with the NHL to talk about North America — the U.S. and Canada. Our relationship has a sense of long-term integration and long-term mutual benefit.”

Geico has a big enough NHL media buy that it had the first chance to buy a presenting sponsorship of the Stanley Cup playoffs position on NBC and NBC Sports Network. After its largest-ever NHL rights deal, MillerCoors is also one of the largest buyers of media across the playoffs and will be aggressively activating around the postseason.

“We’ve been able to grow revenue across the board and that’s really what the new broadcast deal was supposed to do, as we supply new assets, like dasherboards,” said Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s senior vice president of integrated sales. “Our partners all made significantly increased broadcast commitments, and the good news is there’s more demand and more money behind that for activation of those rights and media. We’re easily seeing a 100 percent-plus increase in sponsor activation.”

MillerCoors will have a big presence at retail. During this postseason, thousands of bars across the United States and Canada will be drawing Molson Canadian and Coors Light draft beer with Stanley Cup tap handles. There also will be themed cans and packaging in the United States and Canada. Plus, Discover is again offering a “Day With the Cup” promotion, in which consumers can enter to win a day with the trophy. The company is supporting it with a dedicated spot.

For the selling season that begins when the playoffs end, the largest pending renewal is with Pepsi/Gatorade. Wachtel said new categories being targeted include men’s personal care, consumer electronics and Canadian rights deals in the insurance and auto categories.

In terms of content creation, the NHL is producing two- to three-minute video shorts that it will make available on its media platforms twice a day. The videos will highlight moments from Stanley Cup history.

One, called “Stanley Cup Countdown,” will be released after the games end at night and will feature MTV Canada VJ Aliya-Jasmine “AJ” Sovani. The second one is called “Melrose’s Place” and will feature commentary from Barry Melrose. Those will be released at 2 p.m.

The NHL will distribute the shorts via NHL Network, NHL.com, NHL Mobile and its social media platforms.