The NHL: An Evolving League with Stagnant Marketing

December 9, 2016

Written by: Matthew Nafe

When a young fan looks at the NHL, they see a growing league where speed and skill have become much more prominent. A lifer NHL fan sees a league transitioning from gladiators on ice and the high scoring affairs. How the NHL has marketed itself to both sides of fans is showing newer players such as the newest generational player and Edmonton Oilers 2015 first overall draft pick Connor McDavid becoming the newest face of the league. But how they market McDavid to the older audience is calling him “the next great one” clearly referring to former NHL legend Wayne Gretzky. Essentially, the NHL is attempting to use outdated marketing and promotional tactics to a newer, younger, and faster league.

What the NHL is continuously doing with any of its analysts, commercials, and so on; has become a clear pattern. That pattern being the inability to let go of Gretzky, his legacy, and the NHL’s past.. Gretzky will always be mentioned whenever it comes to hockey and that is understandable, he is the greatest player of all time; comparable to Michael Jordan in the NBA or Babe Ruth in MLB. However what the NHL does is different because Gretzky is always somehow relevant and is being interviewed about who’s the next great player. How many players have gotten the “stamp of approval” from Gretzky, but why does it even matter? The NBA doesn’t run to Michael Jordan whenever they need to feel a certain way about a player. Its purely click bait for the NHL and their aging audience.

This inability to let go isn’t solely surrounding Gretzky, this also surrounds “Hockey night in Canada” and their poster boy Don Cherry. Don Cherry is easily one of the most polarizing characters in the sport. His thick Canadian accent and his strong Canadian values somehow connect with him. His “hot takes” really just come off as uneducated and borderline racist. So why does Cherry still have a job? Well he’s been there for so many years. Viewers feel a sort of comfort sitting down to watch Ron MacLean try and bring Cherry back to earth after a tangent of why a European player is just okay while saying their name wrong. Cherry was once a coach in a cutthroat NHL and to his credit he was a good one at that but why hold on to an old “guilty pleasure”?

Finally one of the most enjoyable yet still pointless forms of “blast to the past” content that the NHL produces is that of the Alumni game. The Alumni game is exactly how it sounds. They feature past players of the NHL competing against each other.  Ultimately, these Alumni games give the chance for older hockey fans to see players they grew up watching, while allowing younger fans to observe how the game was played back in the day. In the most recent Alumni game, the Edmonton Oilers played the Winnipeg Jets and of course the game was entertaining, but more due the games odd resemblance of Men’s league hockey game.


These mediocre hockey games take place on one of the grandest stages of hockey, an outdoor game. These games don’t nearly sellout as much as the featured match, and Sports channels like TSN will still pick up the alumni games. These games are successful strictly on a nostalgia level and that is completely understandable. But to close, the NHL is a reinvigorated league that in the last couple years has turned a massive corner (for the better) with younger, faster, and more skilled players. The NHL continuously has poor showings on all of their social media platforms with good content but bad captions that are oddly focused on San Jose’s star defenseman Brent Burns’ beard. Ultimately, the league needs to make up for their outdated marketing shortcomings and promotional efforts with a good product on and off the ice with a more modern approach that can progress the NHL in the direction we all want to see it going into.

Matthew Nafe is currently attending Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and aspiring marketing professional. When Matt isn’t writing articles, he is a coach for the Carleton Raven’s Ball hockey team, Stopping pucks, singing songs, or making poorly timed jokes. Find him and his humour on Twitter and enjoy his artistry on Instagram.

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