NHL’s Alex Simon Reveals Hockey Fans Love Digital Custom Content

NHL’s Alex Simon Reveals Hockey Fans Love Digital Custom Content child page title

Alex Simon will be speaking at the 2010 Custom Content Conference on Thursday, March 25 from 11:30 a.m.–12:15 p.m. He is senior director, Digital Business Development, for the National Hockey League, and he joined the NHL’s media legal department three years ago. Following my interview with Tom Hoehn of Kodak about their digital strategy, I thought I’d ask some of the same questions and a new question about mobile digital strategy.

John: What are you currently doing with content strategy for digital?
Alex: Our content strategy for digital, like almost all of our initiatives these days, is about building scale. We recognize that, in order to stay competitive in our industry, we need to produce more content, distribute that content more widely, and leverage more media and more types of platforms. The goal is to create more fans, more advertising media, more direct-to-consumer channels and, ultimately, more revenue. To that end, we are pursuing programs such as content syndication across a wide range of digital platforms, fan engagement through mobile platforms, a library of direct-to-consumer digital products (such as live game subscription packages, e-commerce, online auctions, VOD packages, etc.), fantasy hockey and other games, and engagement devices.

John: And content for social media?
Alex: With respect to content, social media is really another form of syndication for us. But unlike traditional digital syndication, which I’d describe as a “one-to-many” model (in other words, we place content on a partner Web site for many users to consume), social media becomes a “many-to-many” model, where we give our fans the tools to syndicate our content for us (and even create content of their own). We have the good fortune of having the most tech-savvy fans among the major sports leagues, and they’ve really embraced the use of social media to engage with our content.

John: Why are NHL fans more tech-savvy than other fan bases?
Alex: We’ve observed that our fans are the most tech-savvy based on studies regarding broadband penetration, mobile penetration and other digital engagement metrics. NHL fans index higher than fans of MLB, NBA and NFL when it comes to these metrics. As to why that is, it may have to do with affluence (our fans tend to be more affluent, on average, than those of other leagues), geography (our fans are located in more “technologically advanced” countries) and/or other factors, but it’s hard to say for sure.

John: Given the conference’s title, “Use It or Lose It,” how does the NHL ensure the organization does not lose opportunities to use content across different channels?
Alex: This is where the NHL, like any sports league, has certain challenges that most other brands don’t have, because the rights to our content are sometimes complicated and involve third parties (like our players, Clubs and broadcast rights-holders). Sometimes there are things we’d like to do with content that we simply can’t. So our focus these days is to identify the opportunities that do exist for us and exploit as many of them as possible. A good example might be YouTube: We saw that our content was ending up on YouTube even without our direct involvement, so rather than spend our resources trying to fight this, we turned YouTube into one of our most lucrative syndication partnerships, with only positive effects on our own in-house digital channels.

John: How does your content-generation strategy influence the development of content across different channels?
Alex: It’s actually the other way around. This past season has been an exercise for us in identifying what types of content work best on various channels. Now that we are starting to see what works best in different places, we are starting to tailor our content-generation strategy to meet the needs of these different channels.

John: How are you distributing content across mobile channels?
Alex: We have exclusive carrier relationships in the U.S. and Canada with Verizon and Bell, and we reserve our richest multimedia content for their subscribers. In addition, we have a carrier-agnostic mobile site and text-alert service. And as mobile apps become increasingly popular, we are exploring ways of taking advantage of that medium while respecting the exclusive rights of our carrier partners. We are also exploring ways of using mobile as a tune-in device and as a way for fans to engage with live games while they watch on TV or online. I hope to have more to announce on this front at the Conference.