The Verdict: The NHL’s Guardian Project animates fans

The unconventional promotion generated 1.2 million votes on Facebook, surpassing league expectations, the NHL's Mark Shultz tells MiC. Up next: TV.

It was a risky play, but the NHL’s 30 custom-designed team superheroes – ‘The Guardians’ – have proven to be a hit with fans.

The NHL Guardian Project, which saw the league sign up SLG Entertainment (led by comic icon Stan Lee), is a multimedia project featuring one custom-created superhero for each hockey team. A business was built around the project, Guardian Media Entertainment, and an interactive social media strategy was devised by RocketXL’s Los Angeles office.

The project, created primarily to attract young fans to the game, was first announced at the start of the season in October 2010, with all the Guardians to be introduced during the broadcast of the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 30.

To lead up to the game, the NHL decided to pit the superheroes against each other and have fans vote to see which character would be revealed each day through January.

The first showdown was on Jan. 1, during the NHL Winter Classic. While the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals battled it out on the ice, their team superheroes were battling it out online for votes (Washington won the game, but Pittsburgh won the vote).

In the other 15 match-ups, the league played up natural rivalries, such as the one between Calgary and Edmonton, to raise interest and fire up hometown pride, Mark Schultz, senior manager of integrated markets, NHL, tells MiC.

The result was that by the time the All-Star Game came around on Sunday, there was already a good knowledge base among fans, so that when they saw the short animation during the second intermission, there was awareness and excitement.

Over the course of January, 72,000 fans registered to vote on Facebook, and they voted 1.2 million times.

‘When we were initially working with the agency, the initial expectation was that they’d be happy with 10,000 registered users because it’s something so new, they weren’t quite sure how people would react to it,’ says Schultz. ‘We’re very pleased with the outcome.’

The Guardian Project’s Facebook page has more than 21,000 ‘likes,’ and most individual superheroes have at least 100 ‘likes’ each. The top three at press time were The Flame (Calgary) with 284, The Maple Leaf (Toronto) with 283 and The Canadien (Montreal) with 274.

‘We could have run a poll on or the, but to use Facebook was a fun way to allow people to vote in an interactive application that was built for this program and also, along the way, have a say and comment,’ says Schultz.

It was also an easy way to encourage people to connect their friends to the app. Every time someone shared the link, they multiplied their chances of winning a copy of the Guardian Project’s graphic novel.

Now that the match-ups are finished and all the characters are revealed, the NHL is pushing people to the main website, where the story continues to build and fans can learn more about the superheroes.

And the next step, Schultz said, is to build on the success of the launch.

‘The hope and the goal at some point, as early at fall 2011, is to have an animated series on a major network in both Canada and the US, and those discussions will start shortly.’