NHL Uses E-Mail for Viral Marketing

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In hopes of generating excitement in the 2000 National Hockey League playoffs and higher traffic to its Web site, the NHL has launched an e-mail marketing initiative that enables hockey fans to download team logos and insert them into their personal outgoing e-mails.

The e-mail campaign encourages NHL fans to promote their favorite teams -- and by extension the entire league -- to all of the recipients of their e-mails. NHL Interactive CyberEnterprises (NHL ICE), the business unit that manages the NHL.com Web site, said this marketing initiative extends the NHL brand and gives fans a way to express their feelings during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The league is also hoping the joint venture between NHL ICE and Favemail, a viral e-mail marketer, will attract additional daily visitors to its recently enhanced online playoff coverage.

"The Favemail deal is a great viral marketing technique and it's an opportunity for fans, at the height of the season, to really show their support for their favorite teams," said Kenny Nova, sales and marketing director at NHL ICE. "That's the overall, overriding goal." The campaign began in mid-April with the commencement of the first round of the playoffs.

Favemail, New York, will drive site traffic by inserting NHL.com links with each team logo that is sent via fan e-mail. Chris Plunkett, Favemail's vice president of business development, said the NHL can change these URL destinations as it sees fit. During the playoffs, the e-mails link visitors to the NHL.com home page. During the off-season, however, when league news slows down, the links can take visitors to merchandise pages or features on the draft.

NHL ICE is eager to promote NHL.com after spending a good portion of the past calendar year revamping the Web site's content and functions. Nova said the site has added greater interactivity, such as real-time scoring and statistics, live radio feeds, streaming video features and up-to-the-minute news coverage. NHL.com has grown to average more than 300,000 daily visitors since its 1996 launch, according to the league.

To Favemail, a months-old start-up, the NHL deal is a high-exposure opportunity to demonstrate its ability to create advocate-marketing programs for its clients.

"The NHL told us it wanted to go beyond its existing portal content play and try to use e-mail as a platform and channel to extend their fan's affinity," said Plunkett. "They became excited about using the unused white real estate at the bottom of the e-mails to drive fans and friends to the site."

There are two ways for hockey fans to download the team logos and graphics. Each of the 30 team pages housed on the NHL.com site display a banner ad for the service. When a user clicks through the banner, the NHL and Favemail takes him to a co-branded splash page. The page delivers a call to action to its visitors, Plunkett said, asking them to click on their favorite team and follow the downloading instructions.

The second way to register is through the NHL's e-mail newsletter. The newsletter displays the same banner prompt as the individual home pages. In both instances, Favemail handles registration, which allows it to try to interest fans in additional e-mail logo categories, such as music or politics.

While NHL ICE declined to discuss the details of the partnership, Favemail said its current deal lasts only throughout this season's playoffs. The company does anticipate, however, that NHL ICE will continue the partnership throughout the off-season. "We've already begun discussions," Plunkett said.

Nova said NHL ICE would evaluate whether the campaign was rewarding from the standpoints of financial, branding and other elements.

"There are metrics we can look at with this program and see in terms of click-throughs and usability of the program and measure the success for us and the partner," he explained.

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