Some sound advice to the NHL: get rid of the f’n cliches! Every sport uses them, but the NHL’s marketing group cannot afford them.
Jeremy Roenick mentioned it at the start of the season when asked about Sean Avery’s criticism of the NHL’s lack of success in term of marketing: more and more players, especially the younger generation are becoming too robotic during press opportunities. This is part of the reason why the NHL’s marketing schemes have not been as successful as they’ve liked. Since Sidney Crosby was drafted, the NHL has focused their energy in marketing him, and rightfully so. He has been dubbed the “next one” since he was 8 and when you have a talent like that, you have to take advantage of it. However, the other part of the NHL’s marketing problem is not their problem at all - it is the players’.
Too many times, especially after the lockout period, I have seen the younger players being too careful in what they say. Often times, I see myself predicting to the TV exactly what they will say, and more times than not, my predictions come true. It is a buffet table of cliches consisting of “playing hard” or great opportunities”. The big problem is that from a young age, blue chip talent is recognized and immediately given a big thick text book on media relations. This text book will dictate that athlete’s personality for his or her career. It is boring, predictable and in the end - impossible to market.
What makes other leagues successful in marketing and selling their game is what they do off the ice. People are interested in what players have to say. Look at the NBA with Shaq. Nothing is scripted with him and the result is that he draws interest from fans to the game. In the NFL, Chad Johnson is consistently featured on SportsCenter with his locker room chatter. Sure, there are more examples of text book media relations in those leagues than not, but the NHL rarely has anybody speaking out.
If the NHL wants to evolve, they need to convince their players to be more… interesting. Fans flock to Alexander Ovechkin, not only because he scores goals, but he allows himself to be exposed to the media and he does not follow the media relations text book. Whether its rolling around on Segways around Washington DC or thanking his maid at award ceremonies - this works. This attracts fans because it shows another side of the player that is not seen on the ice.
This is not to say that media relations is not important. Media relations is one of the most important thing when managing professional athletes. This is also not to say that every player should run their mouth in a stream of consciousness. However, showing a little personality will do wonders for NHL’s marketing project. Even if it is Jeremy Roenick dancing on skates, or Jason Spezza sounding like an amateur in every interview, it shows personality that has the potential to draw interest from the pubic.
Recently, NHL’s media has almost forced a personality on players that the league wants to market. A glaring example of this technique is the recent emergence of Dion Phaneuf. On the ice, Phaneuf has established himself, however, it is only until recently that Phaneuf has been forced to show a personality that has been created by the media. At first, it was awkward - for Dion as well as for the viewer. But taking this tall, mono-tone, one dimension person and creating a marketable being is a challenge on Dr. Frankenstein himself has mastered. But it has worked. The media has opened up Phaneuf to the point where he is gracing the cover of NHL ‘09, a regular on Cabbie’s On The Street, and even the latest subject of Elisha Cuthbert. Even if the league has to force personalities out of players, it is necessary to market their game; and thus, becoming a successful league in the United States.
I point out this issue because I felt uncomfortable and disturbed as I watched James Duthie interview John Tavares 2 weeks ago on TSN. Interviewer Duthie opened the door numerous times to provide the hockey world with some personality to the potential 2009 #1 overall draft pick. However, with his head down, Tavares looked scared, answering questions that I would have rather read in a text book.