A Brilliant Strategy

What Radio can learn from the NHL

I’m honored today to feature guest blogger, Steve Allan. Steve’s a specialist in social marketing. You’ll find his contact info at the end of his piece.


By any measurement the National Hockey Leage is nowhere near the most popular of sports. At the very least they trail the NFL, NBA, MLB, and college football and basketball. Heck, they even trail NASCAR in terms of buzz. I’m not saying this to slam the NHL — just stating the facts.

The NHL General Managers had a meeting in Toronto the other day. One of the items on the agenda was how to spice up their annual All Star Game. As entertainment vehicles go, this is one of the least compelling of all such professional contests.

So, they decided to take a risk. Not because — they said — they felt pressure to change. They simply wanted to inject more “fun” into the events and make it more “exciting” for everyone.

The 2011 NHL All Star Game will now be a pick-up game. Seriously. Players from around the league will vote on two captains on each side. then, the captains will select their squads, one player at a time, in a fantasy draft-like format. Just like we did when we were kids choosing sides (though I don’t think they will be doing shirts vs. skins).

Is this risky?

You bet!

The NHL runs the risk of ridicule from traditionalists and purists. The media will be looking for all sorts of angles to punch holes through the concept. (Do you think there was 100% acceptance for the MLB Home Run Derby when it started?)

Is it a brilliant strategy?


No professional league has ever done this — which guarantees buzz. And, if they really want to do this to the fullest, the opportunities for live coverage of the ‘draft’ will make for compelling media — even to the casual fan.

Here you have an established entertainment medium shaking up the status quo…just because they think it’s a good idea.

Let’s apply this to Radio.

Imagine a group of CBS, Clear Channel or Citadel General Managers in a meeting where they are discussing ways to ‘spice up’ our industry. By just about any measure, Radio’s share of ‘buzz’ lags dramatically behind TV, the Internet, cell phones, i-stuff and social media. Radio is an old industry doing things in traditional ways.

So, this fictional GM meeting has these industry leaders looking at ways to make their medium more interesting. Not because they feel the pressure to do so — revenues are up! Not because their fans are asking them to — well, not overtly. Just because they want to inject more ‘fun’ into their product and make it more ‘exciting’ for their fans.

After serious deliberations, the puff of white smoke appears and they reveal their new idea…

Ok, this is a fantasy. Radio does not take risks. What is the last great idea to come out of Radio (and don’t give me moving news/talk to FM or the Fresh format. Please!)? I dare you to name the last time you saw a headline in the industry press that talks about fun, entertainment or excitement.


Even though risks can lead to rewards, Radio prefers to focus on the potential for failure. If the NHL’s experiment fails, will their fans suddenly switch to NASCAR? Or the AHL??

Worse, Radio has to know what the revenue outcome will be BEFORE they venture forth. Did the NHL make this decision because Molson guaranteed a sponsorhip first? No — they did it because they thought it was a good idea.

The NHL’s experiment could blow up in their face. Fans could be alienated. More importantly, it may not raise their image as a new entertainment option with those on the fringes.

On the other hand, it could attract a new legion of fans who are intrigued by the concept. It could garner the league more publicity and ‘free’ marketing than it rightly deserves. Why, it could even attract new sponsors who like the idea!

Just by taking a chance.

If Radio wants a return to relevance in the crowded entertainment landscape, it needs to take chances. It must look at what it does in new and different ways. It must take what it knows and fuse it with what it doesn’t.

The most amazing part of the NHL’s decision is that it was made by … wait for it … the decision-makers. I am willing to bet that the players will love this. It humanizes their game. And, it’s fun!

Radio knows how to do this. Fun is in our DNA. The radio ‘players’ — the programmers, talent and managers on the blue line (sorry) — have the ideas, savvy and knowledge to make and take these types of risks.

Unfortunately, it is the decision-makers who are holding them back.



Steve Allan programmed several fun radio stations, including WBIG, WODS, WOMC, WGRR and WASH. He now manages social media for nonprofits and small business. You can see his company profile at www.smthree.com