The NHL couldn’t have scripted last night’s game with Crosby vs. Ovechkin better (though I’d bet they would have picked Pittsburgh to win, since they want the series to go to 7 games). In spite of the fact that Malkin won the NHL scoring title this year and until last night had more points than Sid in the playoffs, all the buzz has been about Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin. Alexander Semin had more points than Alex Ovechkin until last night, too. Now, advertising Sid vs. Alex seems to make sense. Crosby stands alone in 2nd place (behind Ryan Getzlaf and no one is going to talk about him – he’s from a southern California team that people still seem to think is lucky for having beaten the Sharks). Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are tied for 3rd with 11 points, though Malkin’s 1.38 points per game beats Ovechkin’s 1.22. At least now they’re talking about the top scoring player on each team, which they weren’t before last night’s hat tricks.
Who would have ever guessed that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin would both get their first playoff hat tricks in the same game? The league really couldn’t have planned it better unless it was in game 7 of the conference finals. That would be a bit better. Otherwise, it was perfect. The two players the NHL cares to market both got their first playoff hat tricks in the same game. Alex’s third goal in his hat trick was the game winning goal. It really was perfect.
The only problem is that the NHL has no clue how to market itself. Drive around and look at the billboards in any major city and you’ll see ads for the MLB, NBA, NFL – I’ve even seen one for tennis. I’ve never seen a billboard with NHL stars telling me I should watch the NHL. Watch the NHL on NBC and you’ll see ads (I stopped fast forwarding to watch it, since it looked interesting) for watching poker. They even have a hockey themed ad for poker explaining how the games are similar and why those watching the NHL game should stay tuned and watch the poker tournament that follows. Conversely, if you watch the poker tournament or baseball or anything other than the NHL on any channel other than Versus, you’ll never see the NHL playoff ads. The NHL could really use a better marketing director.
Perhaps the NHL will prove me wrong this time, but I’d be completely stunned. They don’t seem to realize that advertising during a hockey game for a hockey game is pretty pointless. I’m already watching. Heck, knowing what channel Versus is on my DVR is a huge step – it’s something your average person on the street wouldn’t know. Ask them where they find ESPN, though, and I’d bet you get a much higher percentage of correct answers and 0% of the people going “What’s that?” Somehow, I think if you polled people on a street corner asking where they can find Versus on their cable or satellite, you’d get a lot of puzzled looks and people saying they’re not sure if they get that channel – and they might not. Versus is a part of my sports package, though ESPN & ESPN2 are both standard. Those of us who are already watching Versus don’t need to be convinced. We watched Sid and Alex both get their first playoff hat tricks last night, but non-hockey fans could have been won over last night. A lot of hockey fans who don’t normally watch other team’s games got sucked into the Ducks/Red Wings game Sunday, since it was exciting. A game going into 3OT where there is one winner and one loser (and no point for losing in overtime) is exciting – especially when it’s a fast-paced game like hockey. Since that game was on NBC, perhaps a few people who don’t normally watch hockey did stumble upon it and get sucked into the action, but without a better marketing strategy I don’t see how the NHL can improve their ratings.
Of course, some cities are better at advertising than others. This may be where some of the people saying that southern California shouldn’t have NHL teams get the support for their argument. In Pittsburgh, during the playoffs, there are banners all over. I drove through Anaheim Saturday night and there was no way anyone could possibly tell that just a few blocks away was the home of the Ducks – in round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I don’t have experience with the surrounding areas of most teams in the playoffs, but I know that in Pittsburgh stores have signs in their windows and are happy about the Penguins being in the playoffs. That doesn’t happen around here and without the NHL having billboards or any other advertising to let people know, it’s no wonder people only care about the NBA playoffs. If you live in the US and haven’t seen a TNT billboard for the NBA, I’d be pretty surprised. I haven’t watched a playoff NBA game since Rick Fox played for the Lakers, but I know what channel it’s on if someone asked me in random conversation. It just goes to show you that the NBA knows how to advertise. I have a DVR and don’t even watch most games live, but I see ads in magazines and billboards. It would be nice if someday the random person on the street could tell me where you could find the NHL playoffs, just as someone who doesn’t care about the NBA playoffs still knows where to find them.