The NHL should take a lesson from Alphonso Davies streaming the Canada vs. USA soccer match

Canadians from coast to coast turned their eyes to Hamilton, Ontario as the Canadian Men’s National Soccer Team took on the United States in a qualifying match for the World Cup to be held in Qatar later this year. And while the table-leading Canadians picked up a huge 2–0 victory over their rivals to the south, the real highlights from the match were Alphonso Davies’ reactions to the match as streamed on Twitch.

With over 175,000 views on the stream along with thousands of comments, Davies’ reactions to Canada’s two goals and numerous big moments went viral on social media, further catalyzing a national movement in favour of the team. Here’s what happened and how the NHL could learn from it:

Alphonso Davies, Twitch and soccer superstar

Arguably Team Canada’s most talented player, the Bayern Munich fullback has been held off the pitch due to complications from COVID-19. Instead of languishing on the sidelines, he and his father took to the internet to live react to the match. Sitting in gaming chairs in matching Davies’ jerseys, the pair reacted to each play as it happened live, and the goal reactions in particular were shared across the internet. Check them out here:

These two priceless moments were just some of the gems that came out of the nearly two-hour stream that caught everything from warmups to the post-game Canadian celebrations. It is also worth noting that while the first video included the actual clip of the goal, the stream did not include the actual game footage. 175,000 people tuned in just to watch Davies and his dad hangout and watch the game.

While some of these people are no doubt fans of the sport and of Davies, there are likely many who would rather do numerous other things than watch a match on their own. Yet they spent their time watching a player react to a game, which should be something that sports marketers, particularly in hockey, look to as an area to grow the game.

How could the NHL adopt player streaming?

The COVID-19 Pandemic continues to cause enormous losses in revenue to the league and by extension the players. Unable to play with capacity crowds in their two largest markets, Montreal and Toronto, struggling to fill seats in smaller markets across the United States, and difficulty attracting new audiences with the enormous growth of the NFL and NBA, the world of hockey needs to do everything that it can to engage new audiences.

While the NHL does have some PR issues—particularly surrounding their handling of race-related issues—fundamentally, the NHL does not do a very good job marketing their stars. With nearly 1,000 players across 32 markets across North America, the league has had some success showcasing elite talents like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, and Alexander Ovechkin, but has struggled to really showcase the unique individual brands of some of their other players.

This has slowly started to change, with players taking to Instagram and other social media channels to showcase their more human side. Some teams have also allowed players to showoff their style by allowing them to dress how they want heading into the game. However, as far as the NHL showcasing the individual personalities of their players, this has not been something that they have felt comfortable doing.

However, Davies has shown a reasonably low-risk, high-reward way of creating fan engagement. The league could partner with Twitch to have injured players live-reacting to games.

This could take a number of different angles. For engaged fans, it could be an opportunity for them to understand how players see the game, and allow for a deeper discussion of some of the smaller moments that are often overlooked on the broadcast. For new fans, it would be a chance to watch a hockey player get excited about breakaways, great chances, and huge saves could create more engagement at home. In either case, it creates more engagement in the sports, and makes fans more invested in the games.

Imagine if the NHL had a personality like Tyler Seguin live reacting to a Dallas Stars game if he was sidelined. Not only would it be exciting, given his wealth of experience, it would be incredibly informative. Think of what a player like P.K. Subban could do in the same situation.

This would allow people to become invested in the individual players in the sport, and create an opportunity for players to connect directly with their fans and showcase what is important to them. With the number of countries that players come from, hosting these streams in a variety of languages could create engagement across the globe. This would only help grow the game, something the league has talked about for years.

This is a huge opportunity particularly for players from smaller hockey countries, say a Moritz Seider from Germany or a Nikolaj Ehlers from Denmark, to engage with fans in their home countries in their own languages, but also for Canadian and American players from different backgrounds, like Jujhar Khaira.

On top of that, because they would likely be unable to actually stream the game on Twitch, it would force more fans to watch the game on television, creating a bigger audience and increasing revenue. With worries that hockey-related revenue will not match up to the escrow clawbacks expected over the next few years, everyone in the world of hockey should be trying to grow revenues as much as they can right now.

What would it take the NHL to get this off the ground?

The league and their teams would need to embrace the notion of their players showcasing their personalities on the internet. It would need to move from PR teams to using their players’ personalities to help grow the game from within. More than that, it would need to hang up on the old school thinking of robotic personality-less hockey players who come to the rink to play a game then go home until practice the next day.

People engage best with sports when they feel connected to the players who play them. When they are able to see the players as people just like them, who have personalities and opinions just like them, and who get just as excited about their teammates scoring goals from their living rooms as fans do from theirs. Alphonso Davies has shown that there is a huge opportunity to grow the game from a players’ own home, and it is time the NHL explores this idea.

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