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EXCLUSIVE: NBC and Versus Join To Make History for NHL

The National Hockey League is counting on a bit more teamwork as it rolls out the promotional campaign for this year's Stanley Cup Playoff.

NBC and Versus, which carry playoff hockey and are now both part of Comcast's NBC Universal, are joining forces  to push the NHL's "History Will Be Made" message on air, online, in store, in print and via mobile and social media beginning March 13 during NBC's NHL Game of the Week.  MSNBC and CNBC will also carry the campaign.

More than 20 spots will air, including one showing the Chicago Blackhawks ending a 49-year championship drought. During the playoffs, new spots will be produced each day featuring a highlight from the previous night's games.

Last season, the NHL, NBC and Versus each had their own Stanley Cup campaigns, said Brian Jennings, the league's executive VP of marketing. "The combined NBC/Comcast brings that reach and frequency that got us really excited about what the potential is for the overall campaign," he said. "When they make it a cross-channel priority within their organization, they have an ability to hit demos and tap into the casual sports fan and take it to another level."

John Miller, head of the NBC Sports Agency and the NBC Universal Marketing Council, said getting NBC and Versus to work together came naturally because ever since Comcast's sports assets became part of NBC Sports Group, their promotional teams were folded into the NBC Sports Agency.

The promo teams from NBC Sports and Versus came up with their own campaign, but decided to embrace the NHL's campaign instead, according to Miller. "It's somewhat symbolic of the way NBC Sports Group deals with it s partners. If the best idea came from the NHL and [ad agency] Y&R in this case, we will take that idea and run with it and put our own unique spin on it. But we are all about working with our partners and doing it in the most effective and efficient way," he said.

Miller said the campaign will be on for a long time-starting a month before the playoffs begin. "It's a lengthy campaign but it also  has the broad reach of network, the targeting of cable and the additional reinforcement of what the NHL institutional inventory can add on top of that," he said. "Because of the singular creative message, it will seem like three times the weight."

The spots are designed to evoke memories from playoff history.

Among the first batch of spots: Mess deals with the mess made by Cup winner celebrations, including ticker tape; Wish uses home video showing Chicago Blackhawk's captain Jonathan Toews as a child getting his first skates and wishing for a Stanley Cup when he grows up; 49 Years shows the Hawks winning their first championship in nearly half a century; and Epic recalls a scoreless duel between the Islanders and the Capitals that wasn't decided till the fourth overtime period. (Click here to see the spots)

The NBC Sports Group has been pulling out the stops to promote big NHL events including the All-Star Game, Hockey Day In America and the Heritage Classic.They received extensive promotion across NBC Universal's 20 channels and more than 40 websites. Viewership for the All Star game was up 36%, ratings for NBC's Hockey Day game was the second-highest rated regular season game (trailing only the Winter Classic), and the Heritage Classic  on Versus was the most watched regular season NHL game featuring two Canadian teams since Nielsen started keeping track in the 1993/94 season.

The NHL rights deals with both NBC and Versus expire at the end of the season. Jennings of the NHL declined to talk about what would happen in those rights negotiations, but said both networks have helped the league make a comeback.

"Both NBC and versus have treated us very well as a property the last several years where we've been executing these big scale events, and really elevating our brand and activating our fan base and driving a sponsorship business commensurate with what we think the NHL deserves, they've been there and they've treated us quite well," he said.  "We're certainly pleased and hopefully we'll enjoy a great playoffs and the future is the future. "