To get the National Hockey League’s many players enthused about the league’s coming season, NBC Sports pitted them against serious competitors: a passel of kids.
In an athletic complex in Stamford, Conn., players including Dylan Larken of the Detroit Red Wings and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks surprise squads of hockey acolytes. The change in the kids’ faces upon learning who they are squaring off against masks the day’s true purpose. The players have come to Stamford – where NBC Sports has its headquarters – to run before a phalanx of cameras as NBC and the NHL seek to capture their words and images in advance of the 2017-2018 season, which is slated to start October 4. Their pictures and conversations will become video interstitials that might air during an NBC broadcast of an NHL game, or a gif lobbed into a social-media post about a telecast on NBCSN.
“It’s a bit of a car wash, if you will,” says Jenny Storms, chief marketing officer of NBC Sports. “Once players get into the sesaon and they are competing, it’s very hard to get their time and get more out of them and talk to them.”
The rush to create a cache of interviews and social-media galleries underscores NBC’s need to establish a deep connection with its sports-league partners. The company doesn’t show every sport, but picks a handful, including Premier League soccer, the National Hockey League, the Tour de France and Nascar, then works to burnish them not only with regular telecasts, but sideline shows and other content. As the exclusive national broadcaster of NHL hockey in the U.S., NBCUniversal broadcasts dozens of games as well as the Stanley Cup tournament. There is no small need for hockey content over the next several months.
Mark Belotti, the coordinating producer for studio programming of NHL on NBC, spent Wednesday in one of the facility’s big studios, supervising televised conversations of various players. Each of the NHL’s 31 teams has sent one or two players to take part in the event, which is being held for the first time on NBC Sports’ home turf. “We get a great amount of time in a relaxed environment to collect material that we will use pretty much throughout the year,” he says.
NBC Sports has utilized this promotional assembly-line elsewhere. In April, the unit assembled nearly 100 of the U.S. Olympic Team’s members, including skier Lindsey Vonn, skater Ashley Wagner and snowboarder Shaun White. The mission: a massive capture of content that can be stored, organized and readies for the company’s coming broadcast of the 2018 Winter Olympics next year from Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Two players said the process is more about helping the overall game than it burnishing their individual goals. Both Larkin and Getzlaf agreed that it helps them to get a chunk of the season’s required promotion taken care of before playing begins in earnest. “That’s the idea – to try and get some of this stuff out of the way when we can still have good shots and be fun and no take away time from our schedules,” said Getzlaf.
The event also offers a window for NBC Sports announcers and analysts like Pierre McGuire, Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick to snare some exclusive time with a good assortment of players. “It’s a great touch,” says McGuire.