Thursday, January 7, 2016

If You Give Fans a Voice, They Will be Heard

The All-Star Game product devolved into a stale product for the four U.S.-based major professional sports leagues. The NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB all were put into a position of how to make the games more relevant to players and and fans alike. The NBA, NHL, and MLB have enhanced the game event by holding skills competitions the day before the All-Star Game. And, digital media has been used to give fans easier access to voting for game participants.

The NHL tinkered with its All-Star Game format for 2016 with two significant changes. First, the two conference teams (Eastern and Western) are replaced with four division teams (Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific) that will compete in a tournament. Second, the traditional five-on-five game is being ditched in favor of three-on-three contests, which is the same format used in the league's five-minute overtime period beginning this season. Fans were given the task of voting for captains for each of the four teams. The remaining forty players would be selected by the NHL.

Not Your Typical ASG Captains

Fan voting for All-Star Game captains took place during the period December 1 to January 1. The NHL periodically announced the leaders for each division. The leader board included familiar names to even the most casual hockey fan- Jaromir Jagr (Atlantic), Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan), and Patrick Kane (Central). John Scott of the Arizona Coyotes emerged as the vote leader for the Pacific Division. If you have never heard of John Scott, it is understandable. As of January 1, his career stats included:
  • 5 goals
  • 6 assists
  • 542 penalty minutes
This season, Scott played in 11 games, had one assist, has been placed on waivers three different times, and spent time with the Coyotes minor league team. When the voting ended January 1, Jagr, Ovechkin, Kane, and yes, John Scott were named team captains for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game.

Farce or Fabulous?

John Scott's on-ice performance may not have been All-Star material, but the impact of social media propelled Scott to the top of the list for Pacific Division captain. Fans took to Twitter using the hashtag #VoteJohnScott during December to float the idea of voting in an unorthodox candidate as a captain. Similarly, fans used #VoteJohnScott on Instagram to promote their favorite tough guy. Some people believe Scott's supporters intended to make a mockery of the captain selection process, if not the All-Star Game itself. Could the league have stepped in or otherwise engineered a different outcome? 

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John Scott is certainly not a typical choice for an All-Star team captain (or even an All-Star player), but his selection speaks to the power of giving fans a voice. After all, what is the criteria for designating a player as an All Star? Is it based on current performance? Historical performance? Is it based on statistical performance or a more holistic view of a player and his game? NHL executives probably did not think they would be faced with this outcome. The decisioin was made to put captain selection in fans' hands. The fans spoke, and they have two All Stars in their prime (Ovechkin and Kane) a 43-year-old veteran enjoying a remarkable season (Jagr), and Scott. 

Community versus Control

In the end, the NHL did the right thing by giving its community input into crafting the product that is the NHL All-Star Game. The outcome of fan voting provided fuel to cynics that contend all-star games are pointless and should be eliminated, but then again no outcome would likely sway that group. The selection of a little used player as an All-Star team captain serves as a reminder that when a brand turns over some decision making or input to its community, it is ceding some control. This trait of a brand community is unsettling to some marketers (and their legal departments) that seek to control every aspect of their brand.

Do you think the NHL All-Star Game brand image is negatively impacted by the captain selection process, or did it benefit the NHL brand in any way?