The NHL and Branding

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As you probably know, the NHL and the NHLPA have finally ironed out a new collective bargaining agreement and the current hockey season will be salvaged starting next week. The excitement of some fans has been dampened by bitterness that an agreement wasn’t reached earlier. I’m sure some fans share the dissonance this is creating for me. While I am very much looking forward to watching my beloved Maple Leafs (who are still “sitting in a playoff spot”), the critical customer side of me can’t help but wish I had the gumption to boycott the NHL like I would any other business that closed its doors and offered me, a loyal patron, nothing for months on end.

Rather than debating the intricacies of the bargaining and choosing the side of either the owners or the players, I’m going to narrow the scope of the discussion and talk about the Pittsburg Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs. A lot of the responsibility of regaining fan excitement, trust, and loyalty has escalated this week. There’s an extremely small window of time to get the fans excited and make sure they’re going into this season optimistic about a playoff run rather than bitter about a shortened season or a lack of success in recent years.

Narrowing the scope even further, I’m going to look at one of the channels through which these teams are reaching their fans. As I said earlier, I’m a critical customer and even even more critical marketer so I’m going to scrutinize the Instagram accounts of the Penguins (@penguins) and the Leafs (@torontomapleleafs). Despite this being just one of the many ways these teams reach people, I believe individual platforms such as Instagram and Twitter should and do represent the bigger picture; the mission, values, goals, and culture of an organization. Often, if what’s resonating from these channels isn’t the best, it’s these big picture things that require adjustment. This is the case, in my opinion, with one of these teams.

Feel free to give these accounts a scroll and see what kind of an impression they give. In case you don’t want to get your phone out or use Google Chrome’s Instagram app, first, here are eight of the Maple Leafs’ most recent Instagram posts:

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What we have here is 1. A #waybackwednesday post of Turk Broda, 2. Dave Nonis being welcomed as the team’s new GM, 3. An Irvin Bailey drawing handed out at the old Maple Leaf Gardens, 4. Kids from a hockey school posing in the Marlies’ dressing room, 5. Coach Randy Carlisle being interviewed upon news of a new CBA, 6. The hockey stick art addition to the Leafs’ dressing room, 7. More coverage of the Dave Nonis press conference, and 8. An old shot of George Armstrong sippin’ at the soda shop.

And now for the Pens:

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 So, here we have 1. Tyler Kennedy happy to be back in the room, 2. Brandon Sutter on the ice for the first time as a Penguin, 3. Thomas Vokoun back in the room for the first time post-lockout, 4. Marc Andre Fleury stretching before practice, 5. The guys happy to be back on the ice, 6. New Penguin Tanner Glass, 7. Fleury showing off his new mask, and 8. Pascal Dupuis skating alone before an informal practice.

I believe the contrast is easy to see. Despite an exciting week in NHL news and in “Leaf Land” specifically (with the firing of Brian Burke and the appointing of Dave Nonis as the new GM), the focus of the Leafs’ most recent posts is predominantly off the ice and in the past. The Penguins, on the other hand, focus on the excitement surrounding players returning to the city and the ice as well as new acquisitions solidifying the lineup. I’m not even a Penguins fan and these eight pictures did more for my excitement about the upcoming season than anything my favourite team, the Leafs, have done in the past six months.

Now is a great time for the Leafs and every other team in the NHL to show their frustrated fans that a fresh start is near and the possibility of a playoff run is very real. This is the kind of optimism that can curb the bitterness and save the NHL’s image. No platform should be neglected and each should reflect the messaging goals of the entire organization and, in this case, the league as a whole.