In November 2017, the NHL received a request from Saturday Night Live to use NHL team logos and NHL footage in an upcoming skit.
After reviewing the request, the league allowed for the usage and waited to see what would happen next.
“We knew it was coming and knew some fun was going to be poked at us, but we knew it was going to be fun and presented in good nature so we were fine with that – I was so excited SNL was going to do something on hockey,” recalled NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer.
The skit in question was called ‘Sports Announcer,’ which featured guest host Chance the Rapper as Lazlo Holmes, a New York Knicks correspondent for MSG Network who was forced to cover a Rangers game for the network. During the skit, Holmes plays up his lack of knowledge of the sport, joking about the temperature around the rink as well as things like the difficulty of pronouncing hockey players’ last names.
The skit was one of the highlights of that night’s SNL, immediately going viral across social media thanks to the new catchphrase in the skit, “Let’s Do That Hockey.” To date, the skit has been viewed more than five million times on YouTube.
“It was the one skit that night that felt like it dramatically cut through,” Mayer said. “‘Let’s Do That Hockey’ entered the hockey lexicon immediately – we knew we had to try to capture some of the excitement that was built by that skit.”
That began somewhat of a personal quest for Mayer to try to figure out a way for the NHL and Chance the Rapper to collaborate on some sort of project in the future around the Holmes character.
So when the NHL’s 2019 player media tour was going to be held in Chance the Rapper’s hometown of Chicago, the stars seemed to align for Mayer and the league.
Mayer pitched the idea of having Chance the Rapper reprise the character, interviewing some of the league’s biggest stars “as a basketball guy, asking them questions that were quizzical, comical or with weird answers that would bring out their personalities a bit,” Mayer said.
The NHL got the sign-off from SNL to use the character, and Mayer and league worked with SNL writers to capture the same tone.
“The goal wasn’t to replicate that skit, but we did want to keep that same direction,” Mayer said.
Mayer said that when the specific players were approached with the idea of interviewing with Holmes during the player media tour, each of them had seen the skit and were excited by the idea.
The result is different across the board. New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban tries to match the humor of the interview with his own comedic responses. Some of the interviews, like New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the player acts as the straight man as Holmes lobs jokes at them.
“The players weren’t coached too much, it was here’s a guy who doesn’t know much about hockey and is going to ask very different questions,” Mayer said.
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Similar to the SNL skit, the clips featuring Holmes and his interviews have also tracked well for the NHL.
The six interviews released thus far have accumulated more than 5.7 million views as of December 2, combining for more than 17.1 million impressions. The league will continue to post more of the interviews later in the season.
While the vast majority of comments around the videos are positive, there have been comments calling for more of a return to the style of the SNL skit, or not finding humor in the interviews.
Mayer said that the league’s goal in doing this series of interviews is the fact that people are commenting on it.
“Everyone can have an opinion and think it’s funny or that it’s not,” Mayer said. “It helps to showcase how human our players are, and that they like to have fun.”
Mayer said that the league does not have any formal plans set around continuing the Holmes interviews beyond this season at the moment, but that he hopes the NHL now has a deeper relationship with Chance the Rapper where they hopefully will work together again going forward on other projects as well.
The management team of Chance the Rapper did not respond to a request for comment.
“These are the kind of things in the sports world that can cut through some of the tonnages in terms of content that is being put out and get people to talk about it and comment on it,” Mayer said. “Anyone can put out an interview with Auston Matthews, but how many can do it with Lazlo Holmes interviewing him?”