NHL: League Enjoying Growth as Digital Involvement, Exposure Increases

Laura FalconAnalyst IMay 18, 2011

NEW YORK - APRIL 15:  A general view of the NHL tweetup website during the NHL Playoff Kickoff Party on April 15, 2009 at NHL Powered by Reebok Store in Manhattan. New York  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for the NHL)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

In an age of ever-growing technology, the NHL has smartly kept up with the online trends and as a result, is seeing incredible growth in its fanbase worldwide.

This afternoon, the NHL hosted a bloggers-only conference call that included goalie Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, winger Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders, and the NHL's Executive Vice President of Marketing, Brian Jennings.  

The NHL put together the conference call to create an open atmosphere for bloggers to discuss the Stanley Cup Playoffs with representatives from player and league business perspectives.

With the history between bloggers and the NHL, the fact that the NHL is spending time answering to the needs of hockey bloggers speaks volumes to where the NHL could be heading in the near future.

Blogging has developed a very prominent face in the sporting world within the last few years. They are the fans who have too much to say about their favorite teams, but they aren't credentialed journalists, so they aren't taken too seriously. However, keeping close tabs with the bloggers means the NHL is also keeping close tabs with the fans.

And according to Jennings, the NHL is seeing proof that they are reaching fans everywhere.

"We are doing everything that we can to shorten the path to fandom," Jennings noted. "That's with all of our digital assets."

Jennings noted that in 2011, United States traffic to NHL.com increased 18 percent, 14 percent in Canada and an incredible 72 percent in Finland. Game broadcasts, the largest means of NHL exposure, have also seen record-ratings.

NHL merchandise has been strong overall as well.

"We have been enjoying a great deal of success," Jennings said. "The business, in many ways, has been extraordinary just following what has been going on on the ice surface."

As a blogger and NHL fan, hearing news of the NHL's substantial growth is a bit of a relief, since it seems there are so few of us in comparison to the NFL, MLB and NBA fans.

We have to watch as other sports take top priority on ESPN, as a Lebron James' slam dunk becomes the top play over a Pavel Datsyuk no-look, backhanded goal.

Finally, results are before us and our work to make the NHL a star in the sports world is paying off.

But why do I think it is really starting to pay off?

It all comes back to blogging.

As I previously stated, bloggers sit in a strange limbo between "fan" and "journalist." What bloggers do better than both, is create and maintain discussions on their sites. Interactivity is a quintessential characteristic of blogging. Creating an atmosphere where people can discuss their favorite sports, rather than simply reading about them, is crucial to building a fanbase.

Lately, I have noticed journalists and analysts practice this more than ever, especially on Twitter. They aren't just tweeting news, they're tweeting questions to their followers.

As unprofessional as blogging may seem to some, more and more organizations are utilizing aspects of blogging. It undoubtedly helps keep fans interested, while increasing traffic—which we all know means more money.

Of course, the NHL is still a business, but they sound like they're starting to get it. The fans have to be a top priority. Because the size of the NHL world is so small, this is very possible.

I know I love seeing journalist/broadcaster Stan Fischler or TSN analysts Bob McKenzie talking to fans about trades, series picks or anything related to hockey on Twitter. I don't see that as much in other sports. In the end, we're all fans of the game and want to share our love with other people.

The NHL has to continue working to find an appropriate balance to further tie the NHL to its fans. By increasing blogging exposure to credentialed possibilities, in moderation, the NHL can put itself in an even better place with fans.

Jennings stated that the place of online media in the NHL will be discussed more over the summer, but it sounds like there could be some good news for fans and bloggers in the near future.


Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at lfalcon@mail.umw.edu with any comments or questions.