NHL makes power play with data

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Tailored messaging is a core part of the National Hockey League's marketing strategy, says Perry Cooper, SVP of direct and digital marketing and fan analytics.

Q: How important is the fan database to the NHL's marketing?

A: All the syndicated research and all the empirical research we have from our database and fan analytics shows a scaled audience that is very loyal, and wants an inside perspective on the NHL — especially among those fans that are outside the market of their favorite team. We have a big opportunity on a very focused consumer market to activate. That means we have to improve our distribution strategies, we have to be much more adroit at product development and make sure we continue to tailor our messaging on a one-to-one basis.

Q: Why has the league found digital initiatives to be so successful in reaching that audience?

A: Across the sports leagues, our fans are the most tech-savvy. We find ourselves in a position that while we do well with our broadcast relationships, it's not the only way we can be thinking about mining and communicating with our customer base. We've developed a hockey marketplace strategy that looks in a very ranging way to sports portals, vertical sites, newspapers and blogs, video and audio platforms, everything in the vertical direct commerce space, and social networking through which all our goals can be realized in terms of audience development, incremental revenue generation and having a more specific and video-centric dialog with our fans.

Q: What other data have you gathered that have helped influence your strategy?

A: More than 50% of our fans don't live in the market of their favorite team. That is a great data point for us. You want to find people with needs and be able to devote your marketing and messaging around that disposition.

Q: Is there a difference between how the hockey-centric aspects of the league are marketed vs. the strategy for the retail arm, Shop.NHL.com?

A: It's one big strategy. We're able to use opt-in names that come from sources we deem appropriate for direct-to-consumer marketing. The transactional database we have from the shop, through our partner GSI [Commerce], is used for targeting and making sure we're communicating to the right people based on behavior through direct mail and e-mail.

Q: Have you considered an insert program with your Shop.NHL.com shipments?

A: We'll be "in the box" next year, but we already have some partnerships in our catalog, including one with The Hockey News. We also see the catalog as a way to promote some of our internal initiatives. We look at every ounce of media as a device to really drive attachment rate or expose a particular fan to a channel to another product line of ours.

Q: How important is the print catalog, considering all the other digital initiatives you're running?

A: Traditional media is absolutely a 100%, tried and true ROI instigator. At the drop of our catalog, we see a high conversion rate. We also do a list matchback to prove that the paper catalog is still good from a profitability standpoint. When you look at our list planning over time, it's been the basis of improving and growing response rates, but also growing circulation of our catalog.

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