Marketing Genius from Maple Creative


Marketing tips, observations & philosophy, plus a few rants and random musings - from those who practice, preach and teach marketing, research, advertising, public relations and business strategy.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Masters & The NHL

As a kid, golf on television was for me a sure-fired way to get some sleep. Coverage of some final round somewhere was my cure for acute insomnia. I’d wake up refreshed and ready to go do something – something other than golf. Golf was for rich old guys in plaid pants and certainly wasn’t as exciting as football, baseball, basketball or hockey.

Today, however I find myself more interested in the game of golf and all its frustrations.

I’ve only been golfing for a little over two years. I golf occasionally at best - being the father of a 3-year-old takes up much of my time and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I am usually right at the brink of breaking 100 - at some point I should take some lessons. I’m looking forward to getting in a few rounds this year. And I look forward to watching a few rounds on television as many others and I did yesterday.

Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity or changes in my life but golf is more exciting. The final round of The Masters yesterday was no different. For two days the major seemed locked up by Chris DiMarco. Then Saturday came and saw Tiger on the prowl, gaining ground on DiMarco. Sunday saw what would likely go down as one of the most memorable final rounds in majors’ history. Tiger seemed to have his fourth Green Jacket by the collar, with one finesse shot after the other. His miscue on 16 was an opportunity for another great shot, reminiscent of Danny Noonan’s final putt in Caddyshack – for all you serious golfers out there, relax, it’s okay to admit you’ve seen the movie. DiMarco matched each of Tiger’s great shots. It was exciting to the point that even my wife and daughter were cheering – that’s huge!

What was I thinking about at the conclusion of this great event? The subject of this, my first blog – excuse the length. Golf inspired me to write my first blog. The topic: you guessed it... hockey. Why hockey? Because as I sat there, it became apparent just how successful golf has been at marketing and just how unsuccessful the National Hockey League has been at marketing – we’d be approaching the pursuit of the Stanley Cup if hockey had a season this year. I am by no means a huge hockey fan. I am in the marketing and public relations field and see the NHL as a good case study.

So how has golf like other major sports done so well in marketing? What can the NHL learn?

First, Golf has become part of our culture. It is everywhere: on television, in magazines and in video games. New courses are popping up everywhere. Everyone is trying to learn the game or not trying to and just getting out there and playing a round.

Hockey on the other hand, is seldom mentioned except when people (very few people) ask, “What happened to hockey?” Golf, like baseball and football, has become integrated into American culture. Hockey has not.

Second, it has become easier to learn and understand golf. Announcers go out of their way to explain the game and its various challenges. Such commentary goes a long way. Hockey on the other hand is still a confusing game for the average viewer. Can anyone explain icing?

Third, golf is international. I know, you’re going to say so is hockey, and you are right. The difference is that golf does not have to look for opportunities to expand in order to survive. Hockey does. If the NHL wants to survive it must look for opportunities for expansion overseas.

Fourth, golf promotes youth golf. There are kids' golf programs, more and more kid-friendly courses and kid-friendly equipment & merchandise. The more kids that play golf, the better it is for golf. Likewise, the more kids that are playing hockey, the better it is for the NHL.

Fifth, golf has superstars. Tiger, Phil, Arnold, Jack, Vijay. I could go on. They are recognizable. They are everywhere, even if you don’t subscribe to a golf publication. They are for the most part ‘good’ celebrities and to some extent replaceable. Tiger is on pace to replace Jack Nicklaus, just as Kobe Bryant or LeBron James could replace Jordan.

But if you were on a plane sitting beside an NHL superstar, would you know it? Not likely. With few exceptions, NHL superstars are for the most part unrecognizeable. Who if anyone will replace Wayne Gretzky, as that recognizable superstar face of hockey?

Until the NHL is to the point where its players are recgonizeable, its reach global and its future viable, it will be hard for this great game to become a more marketable entity, let alone a part of our culture. Until it appeals to the average fan it will be forced to rely upon its die-hard fans, and that’s just not working.

Golf has succeeded because it has captured both. It has those who previously saw the game as slow and boring, young and old alike, waiting on the edge of their seats for a 25-foot putt from the second cut of the rough to drop. Waiting for their opportunity to proclaim, in their best golf commentator or Carl Spackler immitation, “It’s in the hole!”

That’s why golf is successful. That’s why hockey is not.


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