Global Markets Down
I'm sure you've read the papers and heard the nightly news. On Wall Street, the Dow hits it lowest levels in 5 1/2 years. On Main Street, U.S. jobless claims hit a 16 year high. From the Great Wall to the Champs d'Elysee, global recession fears send Asian and European market levels dramatically lower. In Congress, the bailout for the Big 3 U.S. automakers stalls in the Senate and the economic pundits are saying the recession could last another year or more.
You don't have to be Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, or Suzie Orman (who is great - IMHO) to understand the dire straits that the North American and global economies find themselves in these days. In fact, the specter of the worldwide economy lurching to a screeching halt appears to be coming on faster than another Lindsay Lohan trip to rehab. That being said, however, the NHL and its merchandise partners are seeing more fannies in the seats and more bodies in front of the television wearing more NHL gear than ever before
NHL stock soaring into the Black - Merchandise
Despite the fact that Real Per Capita Disposable Income
showed it largest decline in October 2008 since the days of President Harry S. Truman (1949) and that the Consumer Confidence Index
just hit an all time record low, the sales of NHL merchandise at New York City's NHL Powered By Reebok store are on a pace to more than double the projected sales volume for 2008. The Head of Global Marketing for Reebok, Anderson McNeill, said that "despite the current retail climate, sales figures attest to the fact that hockey fans around the world are supporting their teams.”
So what? That's just one bricks and mortar location in New York, right? That can't possibly translate to the rest of North America? Can it?
Not so fast, Sherlock.
To go with a newly designed NHL.com, October 2008 Retail sales of NHL-licensed merchandise at Shop.NHL.com enjoyed a 27% increase as compared to the same month in 2007. During the same month of October, 16 of the 30 NHL teams had an increase in sales. To further the point of increased visibility, a 7% greater number of individual visitors clicked over to NHL.com world-wide than over the same 10 months of last year.
The Chicago Blackhawks led the way at NHL.com with a gaudy 234% increase in year-over-year retail sales - that is January to October 2007 vs same period in 2008. The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings basked in the glow of a 140% increase, followed by the Centennial Season Montreal Canadiens at 97% increase vs last year. In today's age of faceless, nameless corporations picking up and moving operations to China or Brazil, people crave a sense of belonging. They want to be a part of something and what better thing to do than support the game you love? Not that wearing a hockey jersey is going to bring back jobs to Chicagoland, Flint, or parts of Quebec but it helps to ease the burdens of economic uncertainty and provide something around which people can rally and feel good about.
NHL stock soaring into the Black - Attendance/Viewership & Marketing
Believe it or not, the month of October broke all records for attendance in the first month of a season, with October's average attendance at 17,338. This was the first time that per-game attendance had ever topped the 17,000 mark to start the season. Not only are more fans coming out to see the show, but the buildings are operating at a higher capacity level - just above 94% - for the first month than ever before. More people in the seats to start a season despite the worst economy in a generation. Hockey fans are the best!
Not only are fans coming out to the games, but also they are taking in more hockey on television. Here are the ratings increases for October for some of the major hockey TV outlets in North America:
HNIC - Hockey Night in Canada had a 12% increase
in viewership during the month of October than over the same month in 2007.
RDS - 23% increase
in viewership for the Centennial Season of the Montreal Canadiens.
TSN - 5% increase
in viewers vs same month last year.
Versus - the States had a 5% increase
in those watching hockey in October.
Another interesting and technologically poignant aspect of NHL.com is that there is new interface for watching hockey games live over the internet, called NHL GameCenter Live. The league has met the demand for hockey over the web and fans have responded with a 270% increase in subscriptions to watch games from their PCs. I have often killed the league for not marketing the sport to the youngest fans, but this move to reach out to the young, tech-savvy puckhead via the net is a stroke of brilliance and should be commended.
On the Corporate side, in a time when companies are pulling in the advertising reins and axing sponsorships left and right - the league has been able to cement key Marketing deal with the likes of Visa, Cisco and Honda. Now I am no Marketing guru, but I would think that multinational entities, such as these, would have put countless hours of market and cost analysis and ROI forecasting before they ever put pen to paper in a sponsorship deal. They must have come up with the conclusion, which the fans already have shown, that that hockey and the NHL are worth investing in.
Increases in merchandise sales, attendance figures and television/internet viewership point to the health of the game and the interest levels of the hockey fanbase. This is a great sign for the game and should help buoy the NHL in a time when some lesser sports might well see contractions in popularity, market share and revenue. If the NHL can continue to leverage "the love of the game" of its existing fanbase, anticipate newer and better ways to market themselves and this greatest of all sports, better reach out to the casual and youngest of fans and continue to evolve such events as "The Winter Classic," then hockey will continue to stay in the black for years to come.
Thanks for reading...