SBJ: NHL, teams building on success of Centennial Fan Arena tour

The NHL Centennial Fan Arena, the league’s in-market activation around its 100th season, has proved to be an effective fan engagement tool for both the league and teams, leading to the hope of doing something nationally on a smaller scale in future years.

Launched Jan. 1 in Toronto at the Centennial Classic, the traveling tour has stopped in 16 team cities thus far, logging more than 33,000 miles. More than 200,000 fans have attended, according to the NHL. It will visit the remaining teams by the end of this year, as well as the league’s tentpole events, including the draft and outdoor games.

“Our goal was to figure out how we were going to reach out and touch fans during the centennial year, and we’ve seen how each of these cities have embraced it,” said Steve Mayer, NHL executive vice president and chief content officer. “We knew we were producing a lot of good content during the centennial, and wanted to make it as far-reaching as possible, even to the point where it was in your backyard.”

The fan arena, which consists of two 53-foot trucks and was created alongside MKTG and Palmer Audio, includes several elements for fans such as a ball hockey rink, a virtual reality Zamboni experience and a 1,000-square-foot museum display of memorabilia, photos and interactive displays.

Designed to provide fans with a historical look at the sport along with interactive games, the tour has built upon what many teams have begun doing across the league.

For example, the Arizona Coyotes launched their own mobile tour event in December 2015 that included an interactive slap shot game and player features. It travels to festivals, schools and other events around its metro area.

When the league’s truck tour was scheduled to come to the city for two days in early January, it secured a spot at a popular outdoor shopping center where it also held a viewing party for an away game. More than 14,000 people attended in Tempe, with the Coyotes able to sell “numerous” flex packs, mini-packs and single-game tickets, said Rich Nairn, executive vice president of communications and broadcasting.

While the Nashville Predators have an outdoor activation in a plaza outside their stadium for most home games, the chance to bring elements of hockey history to the city as part of the NHL tour was key for a city that has been in the league for fewer than 20 years.

“For many fans in markets like Nashville, they may never get to the Hockey Hall of Fame [in Toronto],” said Gerry Helper, Predators senior vice president and senior adviser. “To be able to bring even a small version of something that features the game’s traditions, its changes and history really helps to grow the appreciation of the sport, the league and our team here.”

The NHL has nine of its sponsors — including Bridgestone, Dunkin’ Donuts and SAP — supporting the tour, and has encouraged teams to have their own sponsors activate alongside the events. In Nashville, Dunkin’ is also a local sponsor and handed out free coffee and doughnuts, and the Tennessee Lottery also activated alongside the two-day event. Mayer said the league is working with all the teams along the tour to optimize the stop as best as they can, both for sponsors and fans.

Mayer said based off the feedback he has received during the planning of the truck tour, he expects all the league’s teams to plan their own in-market tours. He said the league is also aiming to be involved as well, even if it’s just ensuring the most popular element of the current tour is there — the Stanley Cup.

“We’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to do that, but it’s really opened up our eyes in a great way,” Mayer said. One of the factors will be on how much money the league allocates to those efforts.

The NHL declined to comment on the cost of the truck tour. The tour is free to all fans.

SOURCE: By Ian Thomas, Staff Writer Published in SportsBusiness Journal on May 15, 2017

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Written by Stephanie Rudnick
Stephanie Rudnick

May 15th, 2017 at 3:47 pm

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