Facing off with Social Media: Two National Hockey League Franchises Have Goals for Facebook and Twitter

By Martinez, Juan | CRM Magazine, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Facing off with Social Media: Two National Hockey League Franchises Have Goals for Facebook and Twitter


Martinez, Juan, CRM Magazine


Hockey often gets the cold shoulder when it comes to generating heat among fans. But at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver earlier this year, when the Canadian men's hockey team won the gold medal with a dramatic overtime goal over the United States, 52.9 million viewers tuned in--the largest audience for a hockey game in 30 years, according to Nielsen.

A 2008 Harris Interactive Poll shows that only 5 percent of respondents list hockey as their favorite sport, but that's a three-percentage-point increase over the past 25 years--a triumph compared to Major League Baseball's seven-point slide during that time period, and pro basketball's seven-point drop during just the last 10 years. Now all the National Hockey League (NHL) has to do is find a way to capitalize on that growth--an effort that may help the league regain the number-four spot among U.S. professional sports.

Like any business, the NHL is utilizing social media to connect with and draw customers. This year, the league created a social media department to oversee its 355,000 Twitter followers, as well as its 260,000 Facebook fans. The league takes advantage of these social networks to lure customers toward other media outlets.

Because the NHL accumulates so many online mentions (specific team names, players, events, etc.), officials opted for ViralHeat, a platform that offered a flat rate to monitor social networks--a set cost regardless of "hits."

"We're trying to develop an audience," says Mike DiLorenzo, the NHL's director of corporate communications. "[That] could [mean] inspiring a casual fan to engage with us or an avid fan to do more with us. By building windows into NHL.com, NHL Network, television-rights holders, and our other media properties, [we're] giving fans an opportunity to come through those windows to see what we're doing."

DiLorenzo notes that the NHL's fan community is far more widely dispersed than those of most professional sports leagues--with a smaller percentage of its fans root, root, rooting for a home team. Out-of-town fans face several disadvantages: Not only is it harder for them to attend games, but the NHL's relatively modest national-television footprint leaves them unable even to watch their preferred team as often as local fans can, and they can't go down to the local sporting-goods store to buy their favorite team's jersey. The NHL, however, is trying to shorten the distance between those displaced fans and their favorite teams. Social media tools, for example, allow the league to knit small pockets of fans into one large community.

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"What we do exceptionally well--what the other professional sports leagues and companies don't do as well--is have a two-way dialogue [with customers]," DiLorenzo contends. "A lot of companies pay lip service to it ... but if you look at our home-base Twitter feed, we have more two-way conversations going on than any other sports league and most any other brand out there [have]. …

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