Teams in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs have been doing a fantastic job of capturing both the die-hard and casual fan’s attention throughout the playoffs. With the NHL being the “inferior” member of the major four sports in the United States, they need to do all they can to differentiate themselves. Social media is a channel that they can use to do so, Twitter in particular.
Surely by now you’ve heard about “the tweet” by the Los Angeles Kings. This crack at the Canucks after Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals earned honors as one of the top 10 most retweeted tweets ever. But a pithy tweeter isn’t where the NHL’s digital game ends. Individual teams, players and the league as a whole have upped their digital campaigns during this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
NHL Embracing Social Media
The NHL has helped to facilitate this process by encouraging fans to use designated hashtag for each series.
Conference Semi-finals Hashtags
While several teams have employed a similar tactic throughout the season, these mashup hashtags work particularly well during the playoffs, when fans become more deeply invested in knowing their teams’ opponents and are more apt to engage with their opposing fans. In addition, #StanleyCup and #BecauseItsTheCup have played into more generalized tweets about the playoffs.
Since the 1980s, hockey players and their fans have ditched the razors for the length of the playoffs. For years, it was a mark of solidarity and a way to demonstrate total focus on the task at hand. But back in 2009, the playoff beard took on an additional meaning—a way to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes. Each playoff team selected the charity of their choice (the Pittsburgh Penguins raised funds for the Mario Lemieux Foundation while the Florida Panthers’ pledges went to their foundation) with fans then collecting pledges for their growing facial hair.
The Beard-a-thon site features several interactive elements, including a beard face-off, a beard of the day, places to search for a pledge a beard, and a running tally of donations received. The Beard-a-thon also got in on the social media game, with “the Bearded Bird” tweeting on behalf of @Beardathon, a Pinterest with beautiful beards and quirky hockey humor, and a Facebook page that provides playoff commentary with a stubble slant.
For those of us unable to grow facial hair, the NHL has developed a Facebook app where the playoff beard of our dreams can become a virtual reality. Fans pick their team, upload a photo, and as their team progresses through the playoffs, so their digital fuzz progresses as well.
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Team Side Social Media Activation
Teams have pulled out all the stops for their playoff runs. Here’s the breakdown of some of the most fun initiatives we’ve seen around the league:
Boston Bruins: Just prior to the playoffs, Boston launched the Bruins DEN (Digital Entertainment Network). One of the areas where the 2010-11 Stanley Cup champs have shined is the Bruins Bear Pinterest. The B’s set up a pinboard which focused on the playoffs. The board blends photos of epic beards, images of Bruins pride around Boston, and impactful shot of the TD Garden.
Among the most highly repinned content on the Bruins Bear Pinterest are the cheeky “someecards” style cartoons, which include messages like “You can’t spell beard without bear.”
Detroit Red Wings: Game goes into double OT, but you’ve got a busy day in the office in the morning. The Detroit Red Wings Playoff Excuse-o-Matic gives every hockey fan has secretly (or not so secretly) ask for, a note “excusing” them from their daily responsibilities to watch hockey. The web app, found at www.redwingsexcuses.com, first asks users to select a player. After a player has been picked, user enter their name and can select from a host of activities they need to be excused for; such as “neglecting spouse,” “unshaved legs,” “Anniversary amnesia,” and “Octopus odor.” With player and excuse picked, a note is generated that can be saved and shared socially.
Los Angeles Kings: The LA Kings have been one of the most active NHL teams on social media during the playoffs. To complement their social campaigns, the Kings put together lakin.gs, a website that is the love child of Twitter and an infographic. The site tracks and counts tweets from fans, shows how the Kings digitally match up with their opponent (as of this writing, in the battle of #LAKings and #gokingsgo versus #coyotes and #whiteout, the Kings were edging the ‘Yotes 67% to 33%), and pulls in photos from the Kings’ Instagram. Fan tweets make up the majority of the content on the page, with 15 featured at any given time.
Philadelphia Flyers: For the Philadelphia Flyers, the words on the streets were, quite literally, tweets. Utilizing technology originally created for to print inspirational messages in the streets of the Tour de France, the FLYERBOT took tweets containing the hashtag #letsgopens and printed them in the parking lot at Wells Fargo Center.
According to Flyers PR, Philadelphia is the first professional sports team to use the 2,200-pound robot, which they attached to an SUV. The robot’s 48 spray guns translated tweets into an art installation around the Wells Fargo Center. And have no fear, the messages were painted in an environmentally friendly mixture of soy bean protein.
New York Rangers: Nothing makes a garden like a gnome, and Madison Square Garden is no exception. At the start of the playoffs, @NYRGnome debuted on Twitter.
The gnome’s tweets offer behind-the-scenes photos, interactive giveaways, and barrage of endearing puns (he refers to his “phe-gnome-nal” followers as his “gnomies”).
Honorable Mention: Although the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t make the playoffs, the Bolts deserve a stick tap for their Steven Stamkos infographic, which documents Stamkos’ 60 goal season through aesthetically pleasing stats. The infographic made the social media rounds, keeping the team in the public eye despite the short season.
The 2011-12 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs have set a new precedents for how teams can activate on social media. What campaigns are most effective and how do you expect to see teams up their game for the 2012-13 campaign? Leave us your comments below or tweet us!