Engaging the puck crazy fan.

JeffJ12    June 6, 2016

As we get closer to crowing another Stanley Cup Champion, take a look at some of the teams that have competed for the cup since 2006. Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, San Jose and Carolina. I would categorize those teams as non-traditional markets vs a traditional market such as Pittsburgh, Chicago or Toronto. So how does the NHL and markets such as Tampa Bay continue to be so successful on and off the ice and engage their fan base who would generally be watching baseball or sunning themselves on a sandy beach during the playoffs?


Today’s fans are intelligent, mobile and closer to their favorite team and players, and this “closeness” or “engagement” is how the NHL has grown its fan base and continues to grow the game in non-traditional hockey markets.

Customer engagement is about creating a strong relationship with your customers or fans. It’s not just how they feel about the brand but rather is about what they do, how they act and how they interact with the brand. A strong customer engagement strategy recognizes the actions of your customers (fans) related to the organization are important because they influence the business performance.

More than ever, fans of the NHL and its teams have greater access to their favorite players. This access creates a strong relationship that translates into jersey sales, ticket sales and possible expansion to other non-hockey markets such as Las Vegas.

The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning are a perfect example of relevant and cutting-edge social media marketing that people and fans love. Being a non-traditional market requires Tampa to work harder to connect to potential fans in the Tampa Bay area. They bridge that gap using social media. They connect fans and make the sport relevant in a market where hockey might not seem like a natural fit.

Twitter has been a very effective platform, from the perspective of driving constant conversation around the brand. Twitter keeps the team relevant and enables the team to place engaging content on the platform. Image-rich content like photos, has been an integral part of their social media strategy. What better way to capture the raw emotion of the game.  Another great interactive platform is the Social Activations section on the team website. The team has giveaways and promotions that also include checking in on Facebook or Foursquare and they are able to turn those conversations online into real time.

As you can see social media marketing is working for the Tampa Bay Lightning along with the NHL and the role they play in helping fans understand how, when and where to engage with them.  One way the NHL has been able to give access to the on-the-go fan is through mobile. In 2013 mobile usage jumped from 21% to 35%, while TV and print numbers wane. This means it has become increasingly important to be present and relevant on social media and that it will only become more necessary in the future.

The NHL also needs to engage their traditional markets, but that strategy along with what has worked in Tampa must include a more grass roots campaign because hockey is already a part of the culture and community in these markets. Growing up in Canada, we grew up with hockey, played it in our local community rinks and what kid didn’t dream of scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal in their drive way?

So another way the NHL engages with their fan base is through Engagement Marketing . This strategy is also called experiential marketing, which is a more direct form of engaging consumers and encourages them to participate in the brand.

Rogers and the NHL have created a grassroots experiential marketing program called Rogers Hometown Hockey. Each week Ron Maclean travels to a different part of the country, sets up shop for a weekend and shares the stories of local heroes and teams from that area. It all culminates on Sunday night with a nationally televised NHL game. But its not about the game itself, it’s about the stories locals share, the parties put on in the local town square and the communities coming together for a weekend to show Canada what they are all about. What better way to engage fans of all ages then a weekend party thrown by the NHL. This experiential marketing allows the fans to get involved with the NHL for a weekend and tell their small town Canadian stories.


Lessons for Others

Consumers are no longer passive and brand loyalty has sometimes become unpredictable. Fans have more choice and there is increased competition especially for the sports fan. Sports leagues and their teams need to understand the digital body language of their audience. The NHL, its teams and Rogers have found effective ways to engage, entertain and inform fans in both non-traditional and traditional hockey markets.



Organization: The National Hockey League
Industry: Sports Entertainment
Name of Organization Contact: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Authored by: Jeff Johnson

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


Tampa Bay Lightning (2016), retrieved June 6, 2016  http://lightning.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=83328

Rogers Hometown Hockey (2016), retrieved June 6, 2016  http://www.hometownhockey.com/

Social Media Success in the NHL (2015), retrieved June 6, 2016

Gary Bettman says social media success drives NHL growth

2014 Fan Engagement, retrieved JUne 6, 2016.

The 2014 NHL Fan Engagement Rankings [INFOGRAPHIC]

Customer Engagement: Wikipedia (2016), Retreived June 6, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Customer_engagement

Engagement Marketing: Wikipedia (2016), Retreived June 6, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engagement_marketing