Can Fifth Harmony grow the NHL?
LOS ANGELES – There are certain expectations when it comes to the National Hockey League and its event entertainment.
The arenas are filled with guitar rock, much of it from before, say, the Columbus Blue Jackets existed. And so the NHL brings you KISS and Billy Idol and Bryan Adams to the stage for its outdoor events.
The NHL Awards show gets celebrities from a “famous for the NHL” pool of Hollywood puckheads, but doesn’t exactly draw headliners.
Other sports look like the Oscars and sound like VMAs. The NHL sometimes looks like a Blockbuster Video circa 2004 and sounds like a hair metal reunion tour. It’s not the League’s fault, necessarily: There’s only so much money to go around, and hockey is, well, hockey.
Which is why the NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles this weekend feels different. It feels bigger. It feels like they were trying to book significant names rather than, you know, who was free that weekend.
So it is that Jon Hamm, famous actor and St. Louis Blues fanatic, will host the “NHL 100” show on Friday night that will reveal the rest of the centennial list of players. John Legend will perform live. Robin Thicke will honor his late father, Alan, who was a huge NHL fan.
So it is that Snoop Dogg – Snoop Dogg! – is doing a live DJ set during the player introductions at the NHL Skills Competition on Saturday night.
So it is that Carly Rae Jepsen will sing the Canadian national anthem, Fifth Harmony will sing the U.S. national anthem and Nick Jonas will perform between the second and third periods during the NHL All-Star Game. These are relevant artists, with significant social followings – in 2017!
“My philosophy is to go as big as we can to the masses, to try and get people to watch our game. To get people who might not watch, but if they tune in to see Nick Jonas and get hooked on the game, it’s a win,” said Steve Mayer, Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President at the NHL.
The Friday night “NHL 100” program will have what Mayer calls “a regal feel” to it – think “NFL Honors” as a template. “It’s going to be a little more formal, and feel like an awards show, without it being an awards show. It’s going to have a big, important feel,” he said.
Getting the right star to host the show was essential, and Hamm was top of mind, both as a celebrity and as a hockey fan – he attended the Winter Classic in St. Louis.
“He has this tone that was right for this. And it was an easy sell – he came to visit me at the NHL offices, told him about the show, said he was going to be the traffic cop for the show and it was a done deal,” said Mayer.
Did he try to exert a little St. Louis Blues influence over the 100 Greatest Players list?
“Yeah, he’s been trying to get us to change the list,” Mayer said, with a laugh. “Actually, he doesn’t know the list. He knows the beats of the show, but we haven’t gone over the specifics of the list.”
While Friday night’s event appears solemn, the rest of the weekend is a party.
Snoop Dogg, Anaheim Ducks fan, appears on Saturday night; and then that trio of pop stars appears on Sunday.
It’s a calculated move, obviously, because they all bring their own fan support. In Fifth Harmony’s case, you’re talking about a group with over 3.7 million followers on Twitter who send them trending whenever they appear on television. Even if it’s just for the anthem, the Harmonizers might tune in.
“They have a fan base that will watch anything that they do,” said Mayer. “I think the jury’s still out on who is going to come and watch us, but we need the younger fan base.”
While trying to ensnare new or casual fans is paramount for the NHL, the All-Star Game is also an example for the entertainment world.
“I read a lot of tweets recently where people were saying we stepped up to the NFL or NBA level of talent. That’s a compliment to us. To have those artists considering the NHL is just the start of what we can do in that space,” Mayer said.
Even if that approach runs counter to what some hockey fans “traditionally” might expect to hear at a game.
“For the guys and girls that are upset about it, because it’s not the norm … I get where they’re coming from. But they’re going to watch the game and appreciate it no matter what,” said Mayer.
“But we’re in Hollywood. We’re in LA. It’s a little more about pop. For us, you look at how we’re trying to reach new audiences, it felt like the right time to bring this talent in,” he said.
“We’re not hurting our sport. They’re performances.”