Mobile Midterm

Amy Rainey
Mobile Media and Communications: Winter 2010

Analysis of the NHL’s Mobile Media Campaign

The National Hockey League’s mobile media campaign is heavily focused on SMS alerts and V CAST, Verizon’s multicast video service. Additionally, the NHL has a user-friendly WAP site and offers personalization services, such as ringtones and wallpaper for your favorite hockey team. The NHL does not have an official iTunes, Android or Blackberry application.

In this case, the mobile ecosystem includes the NHL as the content owner and developer. All of the major U.S. phone carriers are service providers of the SMS services, but there is a strong relationship with Verizon as the NHL provides all of its mobile video content through Verizon’s on-deck V CAST system. Gateway providers likely help connect the NHL with all of the carriers. Additionally, the NHL had to go through Neustar to set up its SMS short codes and through an application service, such as Admob, to serve banner ads on its mobile site. Lastly, mobile phone users are the end users.

When visiting NHL.com on my Android phone, a mobile version – m.NHL.com – immediately loads. The mobile site is designed well for this type of browser and for a mobile user. At the top of the site is a scorebox that provides immediate info about the games that are currently going on or have recently finished. The mobile site also gives recent NHL headlines. At the bottom of each mobile page is a simple navigation with links to scores, schedules, etc. Additionally, you can click to set up text alerts.

Featuring similar style and design, the NHL’s mobile and non-mobile presences complement each other well. The mobile site also succeeds at simplifying all of the content that’s available on the web-based NHL.com and offering the information that a mobile user is likely to be seeking, such as scores, schedules, headlines, stats and standings. On the mobile site, you can also select a team and view a variety of team-specific information. The mobile page also includes a “share” link, which allows you to send the page to a friend via text.

Much of the NHL’s mobile strategy centers around SMS. On the mobile site and on the web site, users can sign up for NHL news alerts via text. There are free alerts that focus on breaking news, special events and contests. The site also provides shortcodes you can use to sign up for real-time game alerts, which are available for a monthly fee, and wallpapers and ringtones for one-time fees. Additionally, you’ll soon be able to pay for alerts specific to a certain player. All of the major U.S. wireless carriers participate in the SMS subscription service, which is billed through your operator.

Although much of the web site’s content is available on the mobile site, the most dynamic content – video – is behind a paywall. If you try to visit the video page on a mobile browser, you’re informed that only Verizon V CAST customers can receive game videos on their mobile phones. Subscribers of the NHL V CAST program get exclusive videos from the games, live game radio and video alerts.

To gain access, users must pay daily $3 or monthly $10 V CAST subscriptions. In addition to paying these subscription fees, a user must also have a phone that supports V CAST. Users interact with the content by navigating through the on-deck system. NHL videos are among the many on-demand videos offered on V CAST, which has content from a variety of networks, such as Nickelodeon and Bravo. There are other services, such as V CAST Mobile TV, that offer on-demand TV shows for an additional fee. It should be noted that the V CAST offering is available in the United States. The NHL offers a similar program with Bell in parts of Canada, though it doesn’t offer the same SMS alerts.

The NHL’s mobile strategy reaches a couple different target audiences. The target user for the WAP site is a hockey fan or a curious mobile Internet surfer who wants information about a recent or upcoming game or a player. The ringtones and wallpaper might also appeal to more casual fans who want to personalize their phones and support their team at the same time. The SMS services are for dedicated fans who are willing to pay a monthly subscription for game text alerts. The Verizon V CAST subscription is for the most dedicated fans – and perhaps those who don’t live near their home team, so they can’t watch the games on TV. The V CAST subscription is also for hockey addicts who have a strong demand for constant hockey news and live game radio.

In most cases, the user is paying for this mobile NHL content. The game text alerts cost $5.99 per team per month, while the ringtones cost $2.99 each and the wallpaper costs $1.99 each. Soon users will be able to pay $5.99 a month for updates on a specific player. Verizon customers pay an additional $10 a month for the V CAST service. For video game alerts, they also pay $2.99 a month per team. The mobile site is free to users (other than the costs they pay for a web-enabled phone and for data usage) and is at least partially supported by banner advertising. On Super Bowl Sunday, the site contained ads related to the Super Bowl, as well as vague ads for DegreeMatcher.

The NHL promotes the V CAST program and its SMS alerts heavily during televised games, which is an effective way to reach the target audience. It’s nearly impossible to watch an NHL game on TV and not see a commercial for the league’s V CAST video program. The commercials are vague and don’t inform fans of the subscription fees. I had previously assumed that the V CAST hockey videos were available to any Verizon customer. On NHL.com, there isn’t a clear promotion for the NHL’s mobile offerings other than the “mobile” link in the main navigation. That page – NHL.com/mobile – has a variety of information about the league’s mobile program.

Overall, the NHL’s mobile strategy makes sense. The league offers SMS services that can reach a wide audience, a WAP site for those with web-enabled phones and video content to V CAST subscribers. I do, however, question the effectiveness of the SMS alerts given the price. How many users are willing to pay $6 a month for text alerts about their team? That subscription fee seems steep for information that you can find through a Google search or on the mobile NHL site. On the other hand, it’s possible that people who don’t have web access on their phones might be willing to pay for these updates.

It makes sense for the NHL to offer video content of its games and other exclusive mobile content. But it doesn’t make sense to limit that content to Verizon V CAST subscribers. Plenty of videos are available for free on NHL.com; however, none of these are available on the mobile site.

In 2007, the NHL entered a multi-year deal with Verizon, giving the provider exclusive marketing and promotional rights as its “Official Wireless Service Provider” in the United States (PR Newswire, 2007). I wasn’t able to find information about when this deal expires, but this exclusivity is certainly preventing the league from offering mobile content on other platforms.

Once it’s able to, the NHL should incorporate applications into its mobile strategy. Currently, the NHL’s mobile multimedia content is only available to Verizon subscribers, greatly limiting its mobile reach. If the league creates an iTunes and Android app, it can expand its audience greatly. Perhaps the NHL should create a free app that offers basic content, such as standings, schedules and scores. Then it can also create a premium app that offers that basic content in addition to video highlights from the games and live game radio. The league could also consider creating paid apps for each team. Each app would provide team headlines, alerts, standings, schedules, as well as video highlights. Additionally, the NHL could create game apps related to its teams and players.

When searching for press about the NHL V CAST program, I found mostly press releases, rather than coverage in blogs and the mainstream media. I suspect that an innovative iPhone and Android application would garner far more press and excitement than a program that is only open to Verizon customers who subscribe to V CAST.

References

V CAST NHL site: http://solutions.vzwshop.com/nhl/

NHL Mobile FAQ & Tips: http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=30208#vzwradio

PR Newswire: “NHL, NHLPA and Verizon Wireless Announce Multi-Year U.S. Relationship,” January 3, 2007: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nhl-nhlpa-and-verizon-wireless-announce-multi-year-us-relationship-53294152.html

PR Newswire: “NHL Hockey Fans Go Mobile With Verizon Wireless,” December 30, 2009: http://news.moneycentral.msn.com/ticker/article.aspx?Feed=PR&Date=20091230&ID=10950567&Symbol=VZ

©2009 Amy Rainey All Rights Reserved

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