Why the NHL Needs Celebrity Ambassadors
Growing the Game Means Embracing Unconventional Partnerships
Replicating the Raptors
The Power of a Global Ambassador: In 2013, Aubrey Graham was hired as the Toronto Raptors’ “Global Ambassador.” If that position sounds unfamiliar, it’s because the Raptors made it up. If that name sounds unfamiliar, it’s because Aubrey is better known as Drake.
While seemingly gimmicky, star power goes a long way in professional sports. At the time, the Raptors were looking to re-tool on and off the court. In partnering with Toronto-native Drake, the team was hoping to jumpstart its international recognition and do something — anything — that would attract tier-one talent to “We the North” country. After hosting an all-star game, reeling in Kawhi Leonard, and winning a championship, Toronto’s success proves that the role of “Global Ambassador” might not be so trivial after all.
How to Franchise the Drake Model: Considering the NHL’s new TV deals with — and no slight to NBC here — broadcast powerhouses ESPN and Turner Sports, NHL franchises have a real window to increase their brand awareness. The likes of Jack Nicholson, Spike Lee, and Ashley Judd drive most conversations around celebrity sports fans, but what options exist in NHL arenas to be their own Global Ambassadors?
ESPN recently shared a lineup of famous fans for all 16 NHL playoff teams. Here’s who some teams should look to for the Drake treatment.
1. Taylor Swift, Pittsburgh Penguins (or Nashville Predators)
At times, it feels like the NHL struggles to attract younger fans, especially girls. International global sensation Taylor Swift and her brand may provide a perfect platform to flip that script. One of the biggest stars on the planet with a loyal following of a demographic that may not be traditional hockey fans? Sounds perfect. A few pictures of her, Sid the Kid, and Mario would go viral in a second.
2. Steve Carell, Boston Bruins
Not only would Carell be able to talk the talk for the Bruins, but he could also walk the walk. The actor played hockey at many stages throughout his life and is one person who could put his money where his mouthguard is. Not that the Bruins need help in the PR department, but this would be great for the league.
3. Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Tim McGraw, Nashville Predators
The Preds have a good thing going, but could take it to another level with the music city entourage. Carrie Underwood sang anthems and made many appearances when her husband, Mike Fisher, played for the team, but having all the local music powerhouses on board could do wonders.
4. Ariana Grande, Florida Panthers
Continuing the music theme, Ariana Grande would help the Panthers bring in the younger audience, much like Drake did with the Raptors. With a young, exciting team on the ice, the timing seems ideal. Oh, and before Grande became a household name, the Florida native rode the Zamboni at a Panthers game as a child and was the first person struck by a puck in the Panthers’ arena. She also sang the national anthem for the Panthers when she was eight years old.
5. Charles Barkley, Tampa Bay Lightning
A big Lightning fan and a TNT mainstay — not to mention it’s Chuck — this seems like a branding marriage made in heaven. Can you imagine Barkley dawning the blades for an intermission shootout with Shaq?
Eyes on the Prize: Getting eyes on your sport is sometimes viewed as being more important than the sport itself. While somewhat gimmicky, celebrity ambassadors can be very effective. Choosing the right person means highlighting your city in non-sports spaces, having high-profile players want to play there, and garnering increased hype when other star players come to town - not to mention more nationally televised games. It is all about the benjamins after all. Just ask the Raptors. They started at the bottom, and now Drake’s here.