NHL markets Web site

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The National Hockey League is going for its own power play and has tapped sports marketing and online firm Ignite Media, Chicago, as a partner to market its Web site, as well as drive traffic to the site to pump up e-commerce sales.

But the deal includes more than just Web site ads and traffic. Ignite will also be involved in developing sponsorships for the NHL logo, the Stanley Cup logo and the All-Star Game. The NHL is the first of the four major sports leagues to outsource its online advertising, according to Ignite executives.

Ignite President-CEO Hank Adams figures that, despite the dot-com demise, fans of the National Hockey League will still deluge NHL.com with hits, still follow their favorite teams and still make purchases from the site.

Now he must convince the advertisers it still works.

"From the standpoint of success, it hasn't been questioned much in the consumer area," Mr. Adams said. "The challenge is going forward to prove it to marketers."

Ignite will gladly accept that challenge.

ONE EFFORT

A dollar figure for the deal was not announced, but the NHL spent just over $1.5 million on NHL.com online from January to May of this year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. The NHL spent $5.1 million in all measured media January through May.

"The over-riding point is that we have never viewed our online business and offline business as separate entities," said Ed Horn, president of NHL Enterprises. "As far as growing the game and providing content to consumers, the online and offline are one. We have approached our business and run our business that way. We were the first league to be on the leading edge in terms of taking our interactive rights inside and running it ourselves. The online tool is a great tool. The involvement of Ignite is to provide us with some additional expertise."

Ignite is already partnered with several NFL teams, including the New York Giants, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Ladies Professional Golf Association and Arena Football. Ignite will represent and extend sponsorship opportunities for NHL.com and NHL-controlled inventory across team and affiliate sites.

"We're going to sit down with them and figure out the best approach," Mr. Adams said. "One of the things we really like about the NHL is that they're one of the first leagues to look at all their assets and say interactive assets are important."

The NHL did not have figures for Internet purchases on its Web site, but Keith Ritter, the league's senior VP-new business, said the NHL was pleased with the traffic on the site.

"We've seen huge surges when we do things like launch our broadband section," Mr. Ritter said. "Hockey fans generate as much, if not more, traffic on the site as other [sports]."

Mr. Ritter does not believe content on the site would change dramatically.

"We're doing things that allow us to grow," he said. "We are constantly monitoring what our fans like to do."

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