‘Because It’s the Cup’ Proves a Solid Marketing Phrase for NHL

Early this season, the National Hockey League ran focus groups in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto featuring a sampling of self-described sports fans. The purpose was to determine fans’ familiarity with the sport of hockey.

At the conclusion of the interview, the moderator asked one simple question: “What is the trophy given to the champion of the NHL?”

“It wasn’t a ‘wow’ moment for us, but it was a reinforcing moment,” says Brian Jennings, SVP, marketing, for the NHL. “We learned that the Cup had so much equity. Everyone knows the Stanley Cup, and that was something we definitely wanted to take advantage of.”

The league’s marketing department was looking to develop a catch phrase that was more welcoming to the casual fan. Thus was born “Because it’s the Cup.”

“Using that word Cup along with the word because gave us a lot of latitude,” Jennings explains. “It gave us the ability to personalize it and to customize it to an individual player and city. It also allowed us to reinforce the authenticity of it on the ice but also broaden it to the sense of, “because it’s the Cup” there are these reasons to come together.”

The NHL was coming off its wildly successful “History Will Be Made” campaign, which was both universally praised and consistently parodied online.

However, a focus on history, the league determined, might have made the message a little too exclusive. The NHL wanted to use its greatest stage, the Playoffs, to welcome in the budding fan base.

“I think, for us, when the word history is used — and we have a lot of history, and that’s a really positive brand attribute — we felt we wanted to make an effort to welcome in those that may not be on the inside of those historic moments,“ says Jennings. “We talk a lot about what is the fan adoption path. If you’re not on the inside of Bobby Orr flying through the air or many of those other iconic moments, it’s not very welcoming to bring you into the Stanley Cup Playoffs that way.

“So a lot of this,” he continues, “was trying to figure out these two months of hockey being played at such a high level. If there’s ever a time to welcome somebody in, this is it. If we are going to invite someone to a party, we want to make sure it’s the most epic party we can throw.”

Hence the focus on the Cup. Aside from a series of commercials customized for teams and players in the Playoffs, the NHL put the image of the Cup everywhere it could. From bus-station wraps and windows that allow fans to take a picture of themselves appearing to hold the Cup over their heads to a 6,600-lb., 21-ft. Stanley Cup in Times Square. The objective was to socialize the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the league considers it successful: online buzz has spiked, with pictures of fans with the Stanley Cup flooding Facebook and Twitter. Television ratings, across the board, have also been up.

Even though Jennings’s team was looking to take the message in a new direction, there was still the pressure of living up to the expectations established with “History Will be Made.”

“There’s always pressure,” says Jennings. “‘History Will Be Made’ is a campaign that we were incredibly proud of. In many ways, we look at the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the time of the year we want to show all of the attributes of this sport: the intensity, the sacrifice, and the excellence. It is at its best during this two-month period.”

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