With New York City-area teams holding top picks in both the NBA and NHL Drafts this week, MSG Networks is aiming to super-serve the local fans excited to see what’s next for their respective teams.
That will come via MSG Networks’ second annual “rookie week,” to watch who the New Jersey Devils (No. 1) and New York Knicks (No. 3), Rangers (No. 2), and New York Islanders (No. 23) are each taking with their first-round picks in their respective drafts. MSG Networks holds the local television rights for those four teams.
League drafts have annually elevated teenagers to stars, something expected again this year with Jack Hughes and Zion Williamson in their respective sports. The opportunity to showcase teenagers achieving those dreams also presented an opportunity to bring in Squarespace as MSG Network’s presenting sponsor of the week.
“We’ve done a branded content series with (Squarespace) around people sort of making it, and people who have this sort of hustle and heart that embodies the spirit of New Yorkers,” said Kevin Marotta, MSG Networks SVP of marketing and content strategy, . “And we thought something like this around rookie week, where there’s this moment in athletes lives where they feel like they’ve made it – we thought that was a natural extension of some of the stuff that they’ve done.”
Last year saw MSG Networks’ inaugural rookie week happen under similar circumstances, with the Knicks (No. 9), Rangers (No. 8), and Islanders (No. 10) each nabbing top-10 picks.
After the week was over, MSG Networks saw major online growth. Its social media metrics were up 85 percent from 2017 – with no Rookie Week in existence – and led to brainstorming new opportunities to build both new audiences and its social media presence. This culminated in the creation of future themed weeks around things like food, sneakers and wellness.
Only a few days into Rookie Week 2019, and Marotta foresees increased success for MSG Networks.
“This year, I’m confident we’re going to blow [that 85 percent] out of the water for this year” he added. “Ideally we’re looking to see [growth] everywhere and I think we’re doing different things consciously within each of our platforms to make sure that we’re getting the increased traffic everywhere.”
Across television, viewers can watch the recently aired MSG 150 on MSG Networks. Debuting in May, the nightly sports talk show will be featuring rookie-themed content centered around its four teams.
On Thursday and Friday, viewers will be watching special editions of MSG 150 that will feature real-time updates and analysts after each draft selection. Knicks fans can watch Thursday night from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m., while New York hockey fanatics can watch on Friday from 8:00 p.m. until the end of the first round.
For its NBA draft social content, the network partnered with Knicks Film School, a well-known sports blog with over 19,000 Twitter followers, to create shows such as Talking Rookies and Talking Process. The former will break down the Knicks’ 2018 draft class of Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Alonzo Trier, while the latter focuses on the team’s 2019 draft picks.
“[The Knicks Film School] have an avid following and when they’re posting stuff, people are super engaged” Marotta stated. “I think some of the folks here in the office are fans. I myself am a fan. I follow it and I love the way they break down players and plays. I think it’s super smart and also really in tune to the way that a next generation of fan is following the team.”
People can also look forward to MSG Network’s tribute to its legends’ rookie campaigns. With its vast collection of historical footage, the network will be broadcasting legendary clips such as Mike Bossy’s first career goal for the Islanders and Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist’s first wins for the Devils and Rangers, respectively. People – sports fans especially – love nostalgia, and Marotta is dedicated to giving them that through reliving their favorite players’ past highlights.
“We see this a lot in the hockey side: our fan base loves that sort of throwback stuff” he added. “This is something that I don’t think any other network can do — so some of these iconic players rookie season going back to like this milestone of their career, that sort of fits within that rookie week theme.”