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

1 Comment

KIN 6300 Discussion: Sports Media Dropping the Ball on Social, Cultural and Economic Issues in Sports

This past Tuesday our graduate class had a great discussion on the topic of Sociology in Sports.


What is sport sociology? It is the study of the relationship between sports and society (Crossman 2014). It examines how culture and values influence sports, how sports influences culture and values, and the relationship between sports and media, politics, economics, religion, race, gender, and youth. (Crossman, 2014)

The discussion in our class was based on an article written by Ken Reed of League of Fans called “Sports Media Dropping the Ball on Social, Cultural and Economic Issues in Sports”. The purpose of the article was to investigate whether or not sports media is going to continue to be about entertainment sports coverage, and putting profit-at-all-costs above the journalistic and corporate responsibilities, or will they aspire to be something higher.


As the article suggests, the way in which we consume sport has changed drastically over the last half century. Gone are the days of just being able to watch your local sports team. Fans can follow their teams across the country and all over the world. This is mainly due to the relationships that sport has developed with the media. This relationship has allowed for more access to sport and has de-territorialized sport for long-distance fans. However, the growth of sports media has come with some huge drawbacks. Sport has now become increasingly distorted at all levels, due to the Win-At-All-Cost and Profit-At-All-Cost mentalities. The focus for sports media has been on what generates ratings, not on actually what is good for sports. Sport media has done a great job at identifying issues and describing problems in the world of sport; however, sports media struggles when it comes to following up with features that dig deeper into the root causes of issues.

Symbiosis of Sport Media and Commercial Sport

As mentioned earlier, a huge reason for sports growth in popularity can be attributed to its relationship with the media. This relationship has the characteristics of a symbiotic relationship. A symbiotic relationship is the living together of two dissimilar organisms (Reed, 2011). This relationship came about when pro-sport organizations saw television as an excellent medium to build a larger audience beyond their geographical area. Since then, sport has depended on sport media for free publicity of their product. Sport media have long depended on sports to help boost readership, listenership, and viewership.


Continue reading