The NHL has always been up for trying new things and new ideas. When it comes to social media, the NHL has embraced the medium while other leagues have been slow to catch on. This willingness to try new things comes from the fact the NHL is one of the smallest leagues in the sporting universe and thus is able to go places other larger, more rigid leagues (cough, NFL, cough) can not.
This desire has led the NHL to a rather unlikely partner - Draw Something. If you're unfamiliar with the smartphone game owned by Zynga, the description is in the title. You are given three words. You choose one to draw in the hopes your partner is able to correctly guess it. They do the same and you take your best guess. Simple. Where does the NHL fit in?
The NHL is sponsoring words that can be drawn within the game. A report from Adage.com confirms that the NHL is one of the first brands/companies to sponsor words that end up inside the game. These paid terms show up in your game appearing as one of the three choices that you have to pick from. For example, you might be given the words "Cloud", "Triangle" and "Zamboni", the last word being placed in due to the partnership with the NHL. The integration is rather seamless and subtle, which undoubtedly must be one of the appeals of the marketing campaign.
The NHL is able to come up with countless of words that could fit within the game's current eight character limit. The above example of Zamboni is an obvious one but the NHL could also use team names, player names, trophy names and other terms related to the game.
The connection doesn't quite end there. The NHL is using another relatively new social medium, Pinterest, to show off what their fans have drawn in Draw Something. This has hockey fans drawing hockey pictures for words that might not even have a direct relation to hockey, such as the word "hair" where a fan drew a picture of Scott Hartnell's mullet. Pretty creative, you must admit.
Ultimately, the big question is pretty direct - will the NHL see a return on their investment? That's pretty tough to say. Financially there won't be a direct correlation. The NHL is really only buying words to place into a game that's been downloaded by 50 million unique users. Right now, there's no catch or tie that would make a user that draws Steven Stamkos spend money in an NHL setting. This might change as the NHL fleshes out the campaign further. You might eventually be able to receive a discount on merchandise if you are deemed to have drawn the best Sidney Crosby or best example of a hooking penalty.
In its current form this is an "awareness" campaign where the NHL hopes to push its brand quite literally in front of the eyes of casual and non-fans across the globe. These types of campaigns are nearly impossible to judge as they lack common metrics used to measure success. You might be able to see X amount of users drew the word "Slap Shot" but it won't show how, if at all, it impacted the traffic on NHL.com or the viewership of a third-round game.
However, here is where I personally think the NHL might be barking up the wrong tree. A non-fan, someone that isn't familiar with the basic knowledge that yes, the league does exist, probably won't be impacted by seeing a hockey term in their selections of words to draw. Realistically, a non-fan probably will skip over a word specific hockey to draw something they are more familiar with. As of right now there's no "Call to Action" to get this casual or non-fan to even recognize that your term is in their list.
This campaign will appeal to current fans of the NHL as it gives them an opportunity to express their love for the sport in a new outlet. If this was the NHL's goal, then they are hitting it right on the money. However, if the NHL was hoping to bring fresh, new eyes to the league through sponsoring words in Draw Something then I'm afraid I'd have to draw the conclusion that the NHL is missing the mark.
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