With the NHL season suspended with no immediate sign of resumption, the league has had to rely on the one thing they seem to hate above all else to keep fans engaged: player personalities.
For fans, the last few weeks have been a bonanza of interviews, videos, TikTok challenges, and Instagram posts. We’ve seen the one thing many of us love to see, and that the sport seems to hate to give us, that the people who play it aren’t just hockey-playing automatons but real people.
Those real people have been doing what the rest of us have been doing during lockdown – messing with their families, hanging with their dogs, and trying out some DIY with varying degrees of success.
Some players are obviously more comfortable with this than others.
Our own Jamie Benn (bless his heart) mostly looked like he wanted to disappear on the player media availability zoom call, probably to the surprise of no one. Sidney Crosby actually did wander off at one point, as well as describing the format as a “selfie video” thus once again demonstrating that he’s an 80-year-old man in the body of a 32-year-old hockey legend.
Tyler Seguin gave a wide-ranging and thoughtful interview to Craig Custance of The Athletic – available to subscribers via podcast. As is seemingly so often the case with Tyler the interview belied his dumb party animal image. On the other hand, the Dallas Stars media team flew a drone over his house for a shouted interview on his tennis court which was everything you expect from a silly hockey interview.
At the extreme another end of the scale (again, probably to no one’s great surprise) P.K. Subban has been carrying out regular Instagram AMA’s from his bathtub with his fiance, skiing legend Lyndsay Vonn.
When this is all over, and life goes back to a semblance of normality the NHL may be tempted to go back to their normal methods of marketing the league most of which are, quite frankly, terrible. They should instead pay attention to the high level of fan engagement they have managed to retain throughout this period.
At the beginning of the season, they attempted to market the NHL network with the widely mocked (and deservedly so) slogan “No soap operas, just hockey”. People were quick to point out that the league is full of drama even in a normal year, and while no one is suggesting that players should be anything but absolutely authentic, allowing the fans to see the people behind the visors is ultimately a good thing.
We’re in an era where sports and media personalities are more accessible than ever before, and if the people who govern hockey want to grow the sport with younger fans they have to keep doing what they’ve been doing when there is no hockey, just personalities to rely on.
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