Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

The (Sports Marketing) World Is Flat: NHL Marketing

In TSMWIF on October 13, 2008 at 10:24 am

Last week the Sports Business Daily (sub. req.) took a look at the 2008-2009 marketing slogans for all 30 NHL teams. See if you can guess which team is using which slogan:


A. One Goal

B. Whatever It Takes

C. Hungry for more

D. Our Team. Our Time.

E. It Stays With You


1. Chicago Blackhawks

2. St. Louis Blues

3. Philadelphia Flyers

4. Dallas Stars

5. Nashville Predators

Ok, this was a trick question. There’s absolutely no way you could tell which team is using which slogan just by reading them on a page – and that’s the point. (Answers: A-1, B-2, C-3, D-4, E-5) 

Here are some other ones:

“Our Team. Our Tradition.” – Carolina Hurricanes

“Spirit is Everything” – Toronto Maple Leafs

Very few teams had a slogan that you could uniquely identify as theirs just by hearing it, and those that did are pretty uninspired:

“Be Coyotes Cool” – Phoenix Coyotes

“I Am A Ranger” – New York Rangers

“This is Sharks Territory” – San Jose Sharks

By changing just one word in those slogans it would fit any other team.  The NHL has a problem – all the teams look, feel and play alike. You can see this lack of differentiation on the ice, and in the marketing departments. The NHL should be playing up the local and regional distinctions among its teams, rather than allowing the teams to further homogenize themselves.

  1. I agree that the marketing is weak at best. No one team is doing that great of a job in marketing their team, and the league as a whole is even worse.

    However, to say that every team plays the same is misinformed and shortsighted.

    The Wild play a defensive style game, waiting for the other team to make even a small mistake and pouncing on it. They also put a higher emphasis on the special teams part of the game.

    Detroit plays puck possession hockey. If you watch them, it is nearly impossible to get the puck away from them. This does two things, makes it hard for the other team to score, and gives them more opportunities for shots and power plays.

    There are teams that forecheck hard, trying to force mistakes. There are teams that sit back and play defense, teams that put the focus on physical play (Anahiem).

    To say that every team plays the same way in the NHL is to say that every football team , basket ball team, and baseball plays the same way. The differences are subtle, as in any sport, but they are there.

    While you seem to have a firm grasp on the fact that the NHL can’t market its game (an opinion that is as old as the league and is nothing new), you obviously have little grasp of how the game is actually played.

  2. Buddha,

    Fair point, I did generalize there to the extent that a hockey fan, such as yourself, could certainly call me out.

    I don’t think any team has become synonymous with a style of play that a non-hockey fan would recognize, in say the same way that the Oakland/LA Raiders did in their heyday. The Raiders were an example of a team that had a certain style – big, deep threat offense; tough, mean defense – that BECAME their recognized style and ultimately their brand.

    In England, Arsenal FC’s style of play – fast, fluid, continental – has become the team’s brand.

    Is there an hockey team who style of play has become their brand to that degree? I don’t think so, but perhaps you can prove me wrong on that as well.

  3. Yes, there is. Most even casual fans have heard of “The Trap.” It was made popular in New Jersey, but has become the reason why hockey is seen as boring. It is a defensively stifling style in which the team focuses so much on preventing goals against, that the offense becomes almost secondary.

    The Wild have been accused of the same thing, and all of the new rules in the NHL are geared towards removing the trap from the league.

    In your original post you state “The NHL should be playing up the local and regional distinctions among its teams, rather than allowing the teams to further homogenize themselves.”

    How do other sports teams do so? The Vikings here in MN say “You made the team.” The Twins say “This is Twins Territory.”

    I guess I just don’t see why you called out the NHL, with its obvious inability to market itself, rather than calling out the other leagues for using the same techniques as the NHL.

    If I were to say “You made the Team” to a NY Giants fan, would they know I was using the Vikings tagline? Doubtful.

    However, if I said to a Rangers fan, “The State of Hockey” they would almost certainly know I was using the Wild’s.

    As much as I hate the inability of the league to market itself, there are teams out there, such as the Wild, that do an excellent job.

    Sports teams taglines are used to rile up thier own fans, not those across the country. They are marketing to people who understand their product, just as any good marketer would do. They solidify their base, and use plyaers like Crosby to try to draw in new fans. New fans that would then understand what the tag line means.

    I have often suggested that the NHL needs to retool and accept that it is a regional sport, not a national one. At least not in the US. They need to rework their TV angles and coverage, their advertising, and the placement of teams to recognize that northen teams make more money and sell more tickets.

    Much like NASCAR accepted its role as a niche sport for so long, and used TV coverage on multiple channels to show multiple angles, and bring the sport into peoples homes. This is what the NHL needs to do, but until Gary Bettman is not in charge, it is unlikely.

  4. Right, but The Trap has now been adopted by many teams -just like the West Coast offense in football. It’s not a real differentiator anymore.

    For the most part, it’s two different issues: On-field play and off-field marketing, but in the best circumstances the two produce a synergy.

    If the Dallas Cowboys had been a bunch of dirty bastards (talking about the 70s Cowboys, not the early-90s) would they have become America’s team? Of course a team like the Raiders would have a slogan like “Just win Baby,” they did whatever it took to win, even if it bent the rules.

    I don’t mean to pick on hockey, I just happen to see their marketing slogans last week as it was the beginning of the NHL season. I’m sure most teams in most leagues have equally vanilla marketing slogans. But most other leagues aren’t in the position the NHL is in.

    Tell you what, rather than talking about the problem, how about if I offer a solution? Very topline, and as a hockey guy Buddha can tell me why this won’t work:

    Take 10 teams out of the NHL. Take 10 teams from the IHL and make those 20 teams NHL2. Every season the 3 worst teams from the NHL drop down to NHL2, the top 3 from NHL2 move up. It’s called relegation and every soccer league in the world (except MLS) uses it.

    Now, teams out of the running in Feb. still have something to play for (and their fans still have a reason to care). As the only sports league in the U.S. to adopt promotion/relegation, the NHL would be sending a clear and distinct message.

  5. The current top level minor league is the AHL. Each team in the NHL has an affiliate, which is a first for the NHL (to have all of the clubs’ minor league teams in the same league).

    Why it won’t work is much the same reason why it wouldn’t work in baseball. The minor league teams are not good enough to play with the major league teams. Thus, they are minor league teams. The minor league teams also belong to the major league team, with the minor league team being there to develop the talent for the major league team.

    I can guarantee the best AHL team could not beat the worst NHL team. Maybe one time, in a “Miracle on Ice” type event, but not consistantly.

    I like the idea behind relegation, but it just doesn’t work in leagues set up the way they are in the US. If you relegate the bottom three teams, they automatically become the top three teams the next year. If you promote three teams, they automatically become the bottom three teams the next season.

    I understand what you are saying about differentiation, but the point is not really to differentiate the teams within the league from each other. Fans do that by themselves, generally based on geography or traditional loyalties (Mets fans aren’t Yankee fans). We aren’t trying to differentiate Coke from Pepsi so much as trying to differentiate Coke from orange juice.

    Hockey is different than baseball is different than footbal, etc.

    Even “America’s Team” has lost its luster. Ask someone who isn’t a football fan, and they likely do not know that means the Cowboys.

    The way the NHL could use its differentiation is by making a bigger deal about how different the sport is from most other sports in the US. In baseball and football, the action is episodic. There are short bursts of action followed by long lulls of boring banter by the announcers.

    Hockey is a constant, back and forth game. Action nearly all the time, unless there is a whistle, and then the action breaks at most for only 30 seconds.

    The fact that hockey is unpopular has little to do with porr taglines. It has more to do with the fact that most Americans have never been to a game. They cannot see how the action plays out, how fast it moves.

    The TV coverage is horrible when compared to live action. Fix that, fix the league.

  6. Ok, good points regarding the farm system. Fair enough. Focusing back on marketing differentiation and why it does matter, you said:

    “I understand what you are saying about differentiation, but the point is not really to differentiate the teams within the league from each other. Fans do that by themselves, generally based on geography or traditional loyalties (Mets fans aren’t Yankee fans). We aren’t trying to differentiate Coke from Pepsi so much as trying to differentiate Coke from orange juice.”

    True, if you are a hockey fan. But for a guy like me, sports fan, a little hockey knowledge, being able to differentiate the teams does matter. It’s all just soda, to use your analogy, I can’t see that one team is Coke and one is Sprite. I want to believe my team is truly unique – Jones soda maybe, not just Coke.

    Which leads me to the following:

    “The fact that hockey is unpopular has little to do with poor taglines. It has more to do with the fact that most Americans have never been to a game. They cannot see how the action plays out, how fast it moves.”

    That’s always the argument that hockey fans make – you gotta see it live. I agree with that. Live playoff hockey is probably the best sporting event you can attend in this country. So why aren’t more people going to see it live? Because people need more than just the physical sporting event. In order to get me to the game, I have to believe there is a story being played out – good v. evil for example. It has to be on a more emotional level than just crushing defense v. European finesse. Storylines are hard to create based solely on on-ice action.

  7. I too have enjoyed this exchange. A good, well intentioned arguement is always fun.

    Maybe I see it from too far “inside,” but I don’t understand the need for the teams to be differentiated from each other in order to attact new fans. My understanding of which sports team to cheer for always came from whichever team was closest and / or was the traditional team to love. Much like choosing one’s national loyalty is based generally on which country you are born in.

    Minnesotans in majority are Twins, Vikings, Wild, and (gulp) Wolves fans. Sure there are transplants from across the country that cheer for their hometown team, but if you ask a native Minnesotan why they like the Twins, the likely answer is “Because… they’re… the Twins.”

    Trying to steal fans away from other sports I can see the good vs. evil thing. Thus the reason why the Detroit / Colorado rivalry played out so well. Problem is, in hockey, these rivalries are fraught with deep, rich tradional hatereds that are hard to explain to the casual fan.

    Think why Germany hates France, or why Ireland hates England, not why the mob hates the police. It is not always cut and dry, and most of the time, when explained out loud sound silly.

    Sean Avery (a plyer in Dallas that no one likes) has had a lot to say about marketing the NHL in the past couple weeks, and mentioned exactly what you did, the good versus evil thing.

    Sure the NHL could do that, but it does smack a little of AWA and WWF wrestling.

    They could use the rivalries themselves, such as FOX does during baseball season. Show the players on those teams fighting and hitting and such. Though I still don’t know that people are going to rush to get over the long held belief that hockey is boring.

    Maybe the NHL needs to give away tickets (like the Florida Panthers are doing) to get people in. They could use a tagline from potato chips to promote it… Bet you can’t eat (watch) just one.

    Yeah, maybe not.

    One discussion this season here in MN was to lower the ticket prices for the preseason games (They chanrge full price -upwards of $96 to see a game that doesn’t even count). This would allow people to bring kids and friends who are skeptical. It has worked for the Swarm, a pro lacrosse team here in MN.

    I wish I had all the answers, but I really don’t. The only answer I know would help is to get rid of Gary Bettman. I’m not sure who he has pictures of doing what, but he is an idiot, and he needs to go. Then we discuss how to fix his mess.

  8. […] over at Eyecube has an interesting blog post that looks at the different NHL team slogans for this season. As he […]

  9. Marketing a sports league is not as simple as changing the rules. Sometimes it is things that happens within a league organically that will get people intrigued. Competition, storylines, personalities, etc. My thoughts:

  10. […] of a points system that is confusing, at least to me.  I’ve been critical of the NHL before on this blog, but I’ve also praised it, specifically for its Winter Classic. The Winter Classic, a regular […]

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