Cover Story: The National Hockey League's Power Play
Sports marketers measure the engagement of their customers in terms of their "avidity." Avid fans are those who have an emotional connection to the game—people whose interest, enthusiasm and passion for the product defy the norm. From a marketing standpoint, these individuals are dream customers because they are eager consumers of all things associated with the sport. But, there is a catch.
Having customers clamoring for deeper and more frequent interactions with a brand is a challenge most organizations would love to have, but a challenge nonetheless. How do marketers identify these individuals within a sea of millions? How do they discern hard-core customers' interests and speak directly to them? And, importantly, how do they continually raise the bar for engagement, keeping pace with these dedicated customers' voracious appetites for consumption?
These are just a few of the questions the National Hockey League grappled with during the last two years. "We have a mantra—activating the avid fans—and it's about driving customer behavior and incremental revenue by knowing, serving, growing and deepening fan relationships," says Perry Cooper, the NHL's senior vice president of digital/direct marketing and fan strategy.
Initiated by Chief Operating Officer John Collins when he joined the NHL in 2006, the "activating the avid fans" strategy seeks to maximize loyalty and engagement, and increase the league's share of entertainment dollars. And direct marketing is critical to its success. Accordingly, the NHL has undertaken a number of initiatives to help deliver more engaging and relevant marketing—the kind that scores points with avid fans.
Understanding the Avid Fan
Sportswriter Jimmy Cannon once said, "A rabid sports fan is one that boos a TV set." But this isn't the only behavior that sets avid ice hockey fans apart.
NHL data shows that avid fans attend lots of games, consume hockey through multiple media and are inclined to use high-tech products, such as broadband and high-definition television. They demonstrate a higher incidence of fantasy league involvement and are the biggest spenders of all hockey fans. Predominantly male, the mean age of avid fans is 39. About half have families with children.