Photo: Matthew Barnaby
As many of our other verticals will attest, brilliant ideas are only as good as their execution. So consider the NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft a failure.I can’t blame you if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Unless you regularly watch Versus weeknight NHL telecasts – and if you do you’re probably tuning into the draft anyway – you haven’t been served a single reminder that the NHL came up with this terrific idea.
Let me explain:
Rather than go the traditional route of pinning one conference against the other in its annual All-Star Game, the NHL decided to select two All-Star captains (and several alternates), and let them draft the remaining all-star selections into teams tonight, to officially kick off the weekend’s festivities. Yep, the best players in the world are resorting to an old technique perfected by generations of school children during recess.
See, it’s such a great idea because it can appeal to casual hockey fans and hardcore hockey zealots alike. My colleague Kevin Baumer, who stalks NHL news like an overprotective parent does their only child, outlines all the burning questions NHL fanatics can’t wait to have answered tonight. But me? I just want to know how much players value goalies relative to skaters. Could netminders go first? What about defensemen versus scorers? And of course, we all want to see who gets picked first … and, yes, last.
The problem is, if it wasn’t for Baumer’s post, I might have completely forgotten about an event that’s certainly intriguing. I watch, read, and talk about sports 24/7, yet hadn’t encountered a single advertisement for the draft.
- Nothing on ESPN.com or Yahoo! Sports.
- No TV ads during commercial breaks of other sports telecasts (NBA or NFL games)
- No big Sports Illustrated ads reminding people to tune in.
In other words, the only people with any idea that the league was putting on a draft, were fans of the sport already destined to watch it.
Worse, is the timing of the draft. If some unsuspecting sports fan happens to catch the event and becomes intrigued enough to say, “wow, hockey really is exciting, I need to watch more of this stuff,” he’ll be disappointed to discover that the draft is followed by… absolutely no hockey.
The NHL needed to televise the draft on Saturday before the skills competition. That way, people hooked by the idea of the draft would also be captivated by the sport’s best players showcasing their unique talents.
Simply put, the NHL missed a major opportunity to grab new fans with a great idea.
Look, there are many reasons why the NHL lags far behind the other major sports leagues in terms of popularity, but the quality of the product is not one of them. Actually, the on-ice product is unmatched. That’s why you always hear non-fans say how great hockey is when they attend games; when they’re forced to sit and watch the whole game, and are immersed in the action, it’s arguably the most exciting sport out there.
But when the sport is given the opportunity to catch the mainstream eye, it doesn’t even swing-and-miss – it gets caught looking. There was no marketing push behind this idea. Nor was their any significant publicity behind the league’s other big campaign, a somewhat-geeky-but-mostly-cool comic book re-imagining of the 30 teams. It’s an interesting idea that has the potential to excite fans – especially younger ones – but again, no one from the NHL thought it was worth telling any kids about.
The NHL can only sustain itself on hardcore fans for so long. The league wants to draw a major TV contract from ESPN, but the network wants to see that the league can draw a wide audience before it doles out another multi-million dollar contract.
The NHL has the brains to conceive exciting ideas. But those are a dime a dozen. It needs to grow a voice and tell people about those ideas.
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