China is ice hockey’s next big market, or so hopes the NHL. This week, the first official NHL games to be played in China will be held in Shanghai and then Beijing, the NHL is making its big push into the market. A major focus for the league must be engaging and winning over China’s rapidly growing middle-class, particularly its younger demographics. To do this, they must establish a strong and localised presence on Chinese social media. It is where the most potential fans are and where they want to consume content. This is what the NHL has been doing online so far:
The NHL relaunched their account on Weibo (China’s favourite microblogging platform) during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. As the finals arrived, they released a simple mobile game that involved shooting a puck past a goaltender. Games such as this offer a great way to engage fans and get them interested in hockey. Due to its simplicity, it was also a very shareable piece of content, allowing people to challenge their friends easily. In total, over 30,000 people played the game and was a major contributor to making the NHL’s Weibo account the fastest growing US sports league in June.
Video content is a key part of social strategy in both China and the West. Particularly in the case of a largely new sport to China, like hockey, localisation of the content is crucial. The NHL has done a good job of this so far, despite most of their time online occurring during their offseason, they have wisely used it to connect with more established sports, like tennis and the NFL, and also to educate new fans on both the rules and the history of the NHL. One of their most successful posts chronicled how the team and logos have changed over the 100 years of the league.
Another highly popular video, which bodes well for the resumption of the regular season, was a montage of the best action from the playoffs. The engagement with this video shows that there is a strong appetite for game footage among their followers in China.
Hashtags are a great way to promote conversation around a topic. They are also extremely important in tracking the conversation and creating a buzz online. The NHL has done this very successfully around their China Games series by introducing their bespoke hashtag #冰临沸点#. To date, this has attracted over 721,000 total reads.
On the Ground in China
Nothing can beat actually being in China, interacting with people. The NHL did this prior to the arrival of the Canucks and Kings by holding 3 training camps for young players. Their online coverage of these events was very popular. Time taken engaging with Chinese fans and players always resonates with netizens. The two WeChat articles that were produced around the camps where their most engaged posts so far.
Everyone likes the chance to win, and nobody more so than young Chinese sports fans. Here again, the NHL has done well to localise their strategy by running a share-to-win campaign from their WeChat account. Official WeChat accounts have far fewer followers than Weibo accounts and are best used to service core fans with more in-depth and personalised content. The chance to win a limited edition NHL jersey proved no exception to this rule as the campaign gained over 9500 total reads, giving a lot of exposure to the league’s account.
Mailman is a sports digital consultancy and marketing platform and a leader in the China Sports Marketing industry. We help global rights holders, athletes, and leagues to build a successful business in China.