And Now We’re Moving to Las Vegas? NHL Marketing in the United States

April 14, 2017

Advertising hockey to Canadians is an easy task. Look at CBC’s opening montage for the 2017 NHL playoffs. Whenever you turn on a television in a Canadian household, you are most likely going to see NHL superstars Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby or Carey Price in a commercial. Even class NHL superstars like Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier appear in commercials regularly. This is exaggeration but these marketing tactics have a tendency to stick with Canadians.

How about the United States? Are they as into hockey as us Canadians?  Definitely not. This might have something to do with having teams in Carolina, Arizona, and Sunrise. In addition, the NHL is expanding its product to Las Vegas! Yes, Las Vegas – a city notorious for gambling, partying and tourist activity will now have its own hockey team. Why Gary Bettman (the NHL commissioner) and his advisors decided this is a good idea is beyond the scope of any rational hockey fan.

Furthermore, for those who are unaware, the NHL is banning players from going to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Players like Erik Karlsson and Alex Ovechkin were disappointed at the decision. This is detrimental because it refuses to spread the game worldwide. If you want the world to see your product, you have to send your best players to dress up for their countries.

For hockey, in the warmer climates, the Florida Panthers had the actor Kevin Spacey, a fantastic actor support them with their Spacey Masks. The Panthers were still 24th in attendance last year and 26th this year. They have an active 40 year old veteran that won’t retire playing some of his best hockey in Jaromir Jagr, young studs in Aleksandor Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Hubrdeau. The team still does not fare well.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes have also been abysmal with attendance figures ranking 30th and 29th respectively. This article written by Justin Grilliand on the Hurricanes blog illustrates the poor job of how the NHL and Carolina have advertised their product. It does not seem that the NHL cares about the fans of these small market teams. In Glendale, you have the threat of the team relocating, taxpayers becoming infuriated to keep them there and the whole organization aside from general manger and direction, is a mess. If you want more insight into this, I highly suggest taking a look at this article written by Neil DeMausse. Let’s compare how the NBA markets themselves to American fans.

Basketball gets the figures, the attendance and the viewership even when the team is poor. For example, the Los Angeles Lakers are having a historically poor run in the last three years, yet they sell out Staples Center on almost every night. Commercials for the NBA market themselves absolutely brilliantly. Joel Embiid, ‘The Process’ plays for the lowly Philadephia 76ers yet he’s featured in basketballs in his hands for a jolly rancher commercial. Expanding the conversation even further, we can see how smaller markets cater to fans and individuals interested in the sport.

The Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder come to mind. The Utah Jazz had a commercial with Gordon Hayward – the Jazz superstar did with his wife and kid. The commercial promoted feminism, family and the NBA product. Another example is Oklahoma City Thunder. Their team saw Kevin Durant – arguably a top 5 player in the NBA, depart to ball with Steph Curry and the gang in Oakland. Yet, the fans still care about the team. This is because Russell Westbrook is promoted regularly and his jersey sales are extremely high. The NBA actively advertises products which interests the smaller markets and fans.

The NHL should take a page out of their books. If you are expanding teams to sunshine and tourist states, you have to allow for fans to be engaged within the community. In case you were unaware, Quebec City and Seattle are desperate for hockey. They are prepared. If you want money and fans, go there. If you want success in cities, let the fans know you are willing to compromise. Speaking of which, does anyone remember the Atlanta Trashers? Hey Bettman, how’d that go? Nice one, mate.


Boyan Antonov is a recent Carleton University graduate currently trying to figure out what to with his life. He has a heavy interest in sports specifically football (soccer), hockey and basketball. With interest comes opinions, and he wants them to be heard. For all things sports, swag, and more, follow him on instagram.

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