There’s no denying that the NHL and IOC have a somewhat contentious relationship. Though the league’s been sending its players to the Games since 1998

[1], grumblings from team owners and executives about pausing the season to play in the Games remain constant. Regarding the Sochi 2014 Olympics, NHL player participation was especially in doubt – the decision allowing NHL players to suit up wasn’t reached until July 13, 2013 [2], just seven months before the Opening Ceremony.

From a business perspective, the league’s reticence is understandable: their season essentially gets put on hold for 17 days, perhaps effecting momentum, team-related fan enthusiasm, and revenues; their annual All-Star Game gets cancelled; and their players are on the ice half a world away, playing under different coaches, with different trainers, and in different schemes.

Though some (including me) think the benefits of Olympic participation – namely increased exposure to a wider audience – outweigh the negatives and will benefit the NHL in the long run, what can the league’s teams do in the meantime to make the best of a situation where they’ve essentially lost the product they’re selling?

The Nashville Predators created a brilliant solution in their “Winter Wonderland”, a six night extravaganza promoting both the club and the Olympics. At the Winter Wonderland, which was accessible to all comers free of charge, visitors could take part in Olympic-related activities like curling, participate in a free skate on the Bridgestone Arena ice, and watch the Games on projection screens. Also available were Predators-themed activities and promotions, including air hockey, team-branded inflatables and a shot-on-goal station. Attending season ticket holders each received a free drink ticket at the event, and prizes (Predators tickets and concert passes) were distributed nightly [3].

In creating this event, the Predators accomplished two goals: they harnessed and became part of the excitement surrounding the Olympics while simultaneously staying engaged with their fans and keeping the Predators brand front and center.

What’s to stop teams from conducting more events like these? In my opinion, these types of partnerships between events and/or teams, both formal and informal, are under-utilized. NFL teams, why not create a Masters-themed event at your practice facility this April? Offer both golf-related activities – putting contests, virtual golf, etc. – and NFL Combine-themed games. Potential prizes could include passes to May’s NFL Draft or 2014 NFL game tickets to attendees wearing the most creative team-themed “green jackets”. NBA teams, consider a World Cup-themed seat selection event this summer – by broadcasting a Cup game during the event and offering soccer-related games in the concourse, you may attract some potential season ticket holders who noticed the event because of its unique theme.

The more teams make an effort to associate major local, national, and international events (both sporting and otherwise) with their own clubs and venues, the more “fringe” fans they’ll have the potential to attract, and the more time and attention they’ll be able to capture from their valuable core customers.

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/sochi/2014/02/18/gary-bettman-rene-fasel-olympic-hockey/5573015/
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/20/sports/hockey/nhl-stars-to-return-to-olympics-in-sochi-in-2014.html?_r=0
[3] http://predators.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=96313

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