App-etite: NHL gets fans closer to the action

The organization's VP of mobile marketing tells MiC about its new products, and why mobile is an ideal medium for reaching hockey buffs.

With the NHL’s global fan base and international player roster, mobile promotion makes a lot of sense. In an effort to bolster its mobile media strategy, the organization has launched a new three-tier app aimed at reaching fans whether they’re at a game, in front of a TV or (let’s face it) in the middle of a meeting.

MiC caught up with Chris Golier, VP, mobile marketing & strategy, NHL, to learn more about the NHL’s new mobile product.

Tell us about your app. Why did you develop it?
The National Hockey League is looking to reach as many fans as possible and create fan engagement. Mobile and tablets are part of our larger digital strategy to reach the fans wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, whatever their behaviour is, making sure they have access to the games.

We have quite a lot of displaced fans. Take any city, roughly 50% of the fans are displaced. We want to be able to super-serve them and let them remain tied to their teams, watch games as much as possible, and we feel like the mobile channel and tablets can accomplish that in a good way.

Why is digital such a big push for the NHL?
We’re such a global game, and when you compare that to some of the other leagues, we really reach far and wide. With roughly 25% of our players coming from outside North America, that’s a strong nationalistic point we really need to [address] and are playing up. You’re seeing fans in Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Russia, where these fans are really tied to players from their countries and want as much access to them as possible.

Why did you think an app was a good way to reach your target audience?
The fact that the fans are so displaced, coupled with the fact that they’re digital savvy, I think that’s really a strong reason. We really look at behaviours, which is why mobile exists and why tablets exist. There are different behaviours accessing similar content. We know that someone with the tablet is going to be sitting on the couch watching the game and really having a game enhancement experience. Being able to see highlights instantly, being able to get game stats and information that augment your viewing experience is incredibly important.

How do you see the app evolving over this season and coming seasons?
We’re looking at a number of different enhancements. We’ve got a bunch of project plans in place. You think about mobile and why it’s different than television or broadband, that’s what we really want to bring out, tying in more social networking hooks, to be able to have friends sharing within their own networks. Getting our fans involved and speaking to one another, in and around the NHL game, I think that’s incredibly important. Integrating location-based services within our apps where it makes sense is certainly on our radar as well.

GameCentre is offered in three versions, ranging in price from free to $159 (which includes the full GameCentre subscription to see all NHL games online and on mobile). The target demographic for the app is the current NHL fan, who is digitally savvy, and more well educated and affluent than fans of other professional sports leagues, according to Golier. Ad space is available, including banner ads, rich media, and video.

The app is available for the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android and Nokia, and will be available for the Blackberry Playbook and the Android tablet, once they’re released.