As I recently wrote in Episode II: The Hockey Fan Experience Reawakens, the hockey fan experience is more than just a fan’s in-person experience at a game. Take my recent trip to the 2016 NHL Winter Classic, for example. During the matchup between my hometown Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadians (the Habs), I saw many dimensions of the fan experience first-hand – from the actual game to sponsorships, branding, in-arena multimedia visuals, coverage, and broadcasting.
As a marketer, this made think: What defines a hockey fan and how is it changing and evolving?
Fan loyalty and the hockey experience
Without a doubt, knowing how to play hockey improves the fan experience. Although I had a non-traditional introduction to the game, I have learned so much about hockey that I can now teach and explain the sport with second-nature ease. After nearly 45 years, I appreciate the game a hundred-fold more having watched, learned, coached, and played it. I also am far more aware of the nuances of the sport as well as the business, its marketing aspects, and more.
From my perspective, a hockey team is very similar to a services organization. Teams draft, acquire, and develop players based on their roles and team needs and engage in a season schedule that consists of individual projects and engagements. As our services practices and teams deliver projects with clients, their ultimate win is customer satisfaction and the impact of a truly collaborative group effort. So it’s not surprising that sports and hockey teams – like service engagement teams – have invested so much in analytics to measure and optimize their talent investments.
Fans follow their favorite players, purchase and wear their favorite players’ and teams’ jerseys, and track their favorite players’ success with statistics across a truly digital experience. Fans are loyal based on location and geography; the overall brand, history, and imagery; and specific players that comprise a team’s lineup.
At the same time, there are interesting variations that are fueled by technology and digital disruption.
The fan experience goes beyond borders…
Ask any sports fan what the most iconic trophy in all of sports is. Europeans would likely name the World Cup for soccer, but many sports fans in North America cite the Stanley Cup. In its own right, the Stanley Cup is a rock star and has its very own brand persona. Phil Pritchard and his colleagues from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto accompany the cup wherever it travels, and it even gets its own airplane seat.
I had the chance to meet Phil when the Stanley Cup and a collection of the NHL trophies were displayed in Boston for the 2016 NHL Winter Classic and came north to the Manchester Monarchs Trophy Night. The Mark Messier Leadership, Conn Smyth playoff MVP, the Calder AHL trophy the Monarchs had just won, and many others were also there – along with three Boston Red Sox MLB championship trophies to round out this incredible fan experience. When it was time to post the photos of the Monarchs fans with the cup, it was done through the cloud. No trees were killed to print anything, and smartphone pictures made it onto social media far quicker.
This experience is confirmation that we are living in an era of real-time everything for sports. Approximately 70% of fan communication with key sources of information and commerce is done with a mobile device, which is absolutely amazing.
…and it’s going digital
I was reminded of this magic not too long ago when our SAP New York office did a “fantasy skate” event at Madison Square Garden with the New York Rangers. As a sponsor of the first-level SAP Concourse, we were given a tour of the renovated facility – from the main concourse to the suites and ultra-modern press area high above the ice. As proof that sports and entertainment are becoming digital, the experience at Madison Square Gardens featured a video kiosk powered by SAP HANA and a press box with multimedia networking hookups and more.
What does this have to do with marketing? Everything. The NHL fields a product: hockey games with teams comprised of hockey players. They play under a team brand as well as the NHL master brand while chasing after an iconic award with a brand of its own. Each player has their own personal brand, and all of them are inextricably tied to the overall brand of both the team and the NHL.
But there’s much more here. Maintaining team historical information, the NHL statistics Web site powered by SAP HANA is expanding to include all information dating back to the inception of the league – available on demand anytime, anywhere, and on any device.
Digitalization and digital transformation are sweeping through all sports and hockey, and the NHL is but one example. We are in the midst of a revolution that will make everything more fun and our memories even more vivid. What an exciting time to be a hockey fan!
Learn more about NHL.com statistics powered by SAP and SAP HANA. Read Phasing into Analytics: The NHL and SAP Innovate their Statistical Database.
Explore exciting new developments in sports marketing. check out the Center of Business Insight brief The Future of Sports Marketing: Play Locally, Think Globally, Drive Loyalty.
Fred Isbell is the senior marketing director and head of thought leadership Service & Support Marketing at SAP.