Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

Did The NHL Finally Get Marketing Right?



When you think of New Year’s Day, you probably think, “Where’s the Advil?” to nurse your headache from the night before and hope no embarrassing photos of you make it to your Facebook timeline. However, since 2008, another sporting event “owns New Year Day” – The NHL Winter Classic. (Formentin, 2013)

Since the first Winter Classic was played on January 1st, 2008, the game has become a mega event along with the likes of the NFL Superbowl, “making the NHL less and less a poor cousin to the NFL, MLB, and the NBA.” (Ebner, 2013) In Melanie Formentin’s 2013 article, “The Great Outdoor Game: NHL Finally Gets Marketing Right”, she describes how the NHL turned the Winter Classic into a profitable and popular event with fans and sponsors alike, through tradition and nostalgia-based marketing.

From HBO sport documentaries leading up to the event; to maximizing co-branding efforts with sponsors; to even reviving the throwback sweaters; the advertising and marketing from the Winter Classic has shown success by tapping into “human values which play an important role in consumer behavior” with sports being “the greatest opportunities to tap into these emotions.” (Formentin, 2013)


While Formentin’s article is very well organized and thoughtful, it could have been easily condensed, as it was often repetitive. With every new thought that was presented in the article, Formentin continually felt the need to point out that all advertising and marketing of the Winter Classic was based on tradition/nostalgia of playing the game of hockey outside which is the “root of the sport”, throughout the paper. (Formentin, 2013) This made it repetitive at time.

Another point of critique in Formentin’s article is that she doesn’t provide much numerical data to support the success of the NHL’s Winter Classic marketing strategy and, where she does show some data in the conclusion, it makes it seem like an afterthought. David Ebner’s, “Outdoor Games Key Cog in NHL Marketing Machine” 2013 article for The Globe and Mail, is a much better example of how to incorporate numerical info and statistics that reveal how much the event has grown. Two stats that really were surprising were that The Winter Classic pulled “in over 10 million in tickets, advertising, and merchandise” and the “half-dozen outdoor games is part of the reason next year’s salary cap is shooting up by around $6-million (U.S.) toward $71-million – and the games are a visible display of a league buoyed by a big-time new TV contract in Canada and strong exposure on NBC in the United States.” (Ebner, 2013) Adding additional numerical data throughout the book chapter, instead of just briefly mentioning it in a paragraph in the conclusion, would have heavily strengthened Formentin’s argument that the NHL finally did get marketing right. This leads to my final point.

Did the NHL finally get marketing right? What is the title based on? 2008 must not have been the first time the NHL thought about bringing the idea of the Winter Classic into fruition. There was not even any mention in the article of the Heritage Classic, the outdoor game that was played in 2003. Formentin’s article just showed good examples of what were current successes in the NHL marketing strategies. She never brought up any past failures, if there were any, and how they may have led to the growth and success of NHL’s current marketing strategy. Just from reading this article its unclear if the NHL did finally get marketing right? Maybe it was never ‘not right.’

While there are many critiques that can be presented on Formentin’s 2013 article, “The Great Outdoor Game: The NHL Finally Get Marketing Right”, the idea of tradition and nostalgia-based marketing making the event into a profitable and popular event with fans and sponsors alike,The is still something the NHL is using in the upcoming Chicago Blackhawks- Saint Louis Blues matchup this upcoming New Year’s Day. Gary Bettman has stated:

“With the Blues celebrating their 50th anniversary, the League celebrating its 100th and with Busch Stadium wrapping up its 10th year of service to the St. Louis community, there will be plenty of history to commemorate and lots of excitement to anticipate as the Blues and Blackhawks resume a rivalry that has provided so many fantastic memories.” (NHL Press Conference, 2016)



  1. Eber, D. (2013). Outdoor Games Key Cog in NHL Marking Machine. Retrieved from
  2. Formentin, M. (2013). The Great Outdoor Game: NHL Finally Gets Marketing Right. (3rd Edition). American History Through Sports: From Colonial Lacrosse to Extreme Sport. (Pp. 191-209) Santa Barbra, California; Praeger.
  3. NHL Press Conference. (2016) Blues-Blackhawks Rivalry Takes Centre Stage at the 2017 NHL Winter Classic at Busch Stadium. Retrieved from
  4. Thompson, D. (2014). Which Sports Have The Whitest/ Richest/ Oldest Fans. Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “Did The NHL Finally Get Marketing Right?

  1. The concept of having outdoor games has been a part of the league now for a considerable amount of time and this season the league has included four outdoor series games in their schedule. The critical analysis presented by Johnson on the article titled “The Great Outdoor Game: NHL Finally gets Marketing Right” brings to the forefront this sense of nostalgia-based marketing in the NHL, returning to the outdoor rink where it all began. This then present the issue of is there too many outdoor games in the NHL? Are the benefits the NHL has been seeing through the outdoor games going to be depleted?

    This year is the centennial year the league has been in existence and the outdoor games reflect the significance of this year. In regards to nostalgia through marketing the NHL is seeking great benefits through this coming season as they have those four outdoor games scheduled.

    Both players and analysts of the sport have weighed in on this issue about can there be too many outdoor games? Analyst LeBrun commented on this very question. He agreed that for this season he is on board but in the future seasons he would like to see it cut back, “You’ve created the demand, and you should continue to fuel it” (1) I would have to agree with LeBrun. There may be a point at which the nostalgia first created around outdoor games may become diluted and cutting back will continue to created demand. The players on the other hand are divided in their perception. The players have a unique perspective and atmosphere around these games and a lot of players enjoy the experience but others see the nostalgia of it decreasing. (2) The NHL and NHLPA share the revenues of the game and each should think critically from their stand point around this question of can there be too many outdoor games?

    There is not doubt about it that there has been nostalgia-based marketing taking place through the hosting of outdoor games but there may be a point of too many. If the NHL and NHLPA continue down the path of 4, 5, or even 6 outdoor games a season than this marketing strategy may be in jeopardy. Johnson presents an excellent critical analysis on the article presented but the question I raise is can there be too many outdoor games? I would have to agree with LeBrun and say yes.



  2. Tradition / nostalgia based marketing is very powerful, and I would argue that the NHL does get their marketing right by utilizing this strategy. As explained Lacy (2014) in her article titled “Nostalgia Marketing: How Brands Use The Past To Connect With Consumers Today”, consumers spend more when they feel nostalgic, so it is not surprising that the Winer Classic experienced more than $10 million in ticket sale, advertising, and merchandise revenues. While having the numerical data earlier on in the article would strengthen her argument, I don’t think her including it in the conclusion was an afterthought. Nostalgia / tradition based marketing is more about people’s feelings, and it makes sense that the article would focus more on that.

    I think using nostalgia / tradition based marketing help brands connect and form relationships with their consumers (and helps consumers connect with each other), which helps brands foster customer loyalty. The NHL already has a dedicated fan base, so it’s not a big leap to appeal to their memories. Many fans have good memories of the NHL, and would share the sport with their network so they too can experience the good times. This strategy is definitely one that more professional sport leagues / teams should utilize.

    While you provide good critiques of the article, including analyzing the title, it is unclear what you think about the question. Do you think the NHL finally got its marketing right? Should other leagues follow the NHL’s lead and employ some tradition / nostalgia based marketing strategies?


    Lacy, L. (2014). Nostalgia marketing: How brands use the past to connect with consumers today. Retrieved from


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