MSG Networks Looks To Capitalize On Tri-State NHL Team Buzz

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Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Three of the most-anticipated teams entering the 2019-2020 NHL season are the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and New York Rangers, all of which scored with interesting offseason additions – and in the case of the Islanders, the promise of a new stadium.

As the local rightsholder for all three teams, MSG Networks is using that increased local buzz to roll out several new fan engagement efforts ahead of the start of the season.

“It was a super exciting off-season for our teams, with the Devils and Rangers retooling quickly and the Islanders following up a successful season including a sweep in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the news around a new arena,” said Kevin Marotta, the senior vice president of marketing promotions and program strategy for MSG Networks.

“There is a lot of interest in all three of the teams – our job now is to capture that as much as possible, feeding the literal beast that is the New York-area hockey fan with as much content and storytelling that we can.”

Increasing the level of content that MSG Networks was producing around the teams was one of Marotta’s and the network’s top priorities during the offseason.

In 2017, MSG Networks launched a block of programming called MSG Shorts, a collection of short-form content that it would air after its live post-game studio shows.

While it initially only aired after New York Knicks games, the network started putting MSG Shorts on after select hockey games as well last year.

A variety of content appears in the block, ranging from a five-minute feature on a player that MSG Networks produced in-house to one of Complex Networks’ series like “Hot Ones” or “Sneaker Shopping,” which comes via a partnership between the two media companies, to other branded content.

Marotta said the push into the short-form content has been a success for the network on both the business and viewer side.

The network’s branded content business, which most of it lives within the MSG Shorts block, has more than doubled in each of the last two years. For example, branded content last year included a video introducing fans to the Knicks’ team doctors and trainers at Hospital for Special Surgery, which is the official hospital partner of the team.

The network’s team-related produced content, which generally is under five minutes and often features the teams and the players in lighthearted situations like discussing their favorite restaurants or sneaker choices. Marotta said that has helped fuel the network’s digital growth, as these clips are easily shareable on social media and live on its YouTube channel, which has now grown to more than 33,000 subscribers with over a million video views per month.

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“We’ve seen several benefits from expanding MSG Shorts – creating more content that can perform well on any platform, engaging a younger audience on both our linear and digital channels, and building a meaningful place to put branded content where it fits in naturally,” Marotta said. “It brings in a different audience than perhaps our other programming does, but it also has proven to retain the audience after a post-game much better.”

The content also serves a purpose as a way to “bring out a player’s personality, highlight their points of view and let fans know players better,” Marotta said.

This season, MSG Networks is going to also try to program theme works with its MSG Shorts content. Last year, the network had food- and sneaker-related takeovers, and those performed better than the other pieces of content, he said.

Furthering that push to better reach fans are the newly-launched team-specific social media accounts that the network now has for each of the Devils, Islanders, and Rangers. In the past, all MSG Networks produced content was released via the network’s single account, regardless of what team was being featured.

“These are three unique, rabid hockey fan bases in one market, and they are all rivals with each other,” Marotta said. “We wanted to give them a place where we speak their languages.”

Last year, MSG Networks ran a promotional campaign around the teams called “Expressions of Fandom,” showcasing fans that did something tangible around their love of their respective team, whether that was opening an Islanders-specific bar, converting a basement into a Rangers-themed man cave or having a Knicks mural done at a local restaurant.

Marotta said the network recognized that there was a “conversation happening between fans that had a different tone than what we were doing as a network – we saw an opportunity to engage with the fans in that way.”

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MSG Networks worked internally to find employees who were super-fans of each team to help run the accounts on Instagram and Twitter, which will be much more focused on sharing team-related memes and showcasing the thoughts of fellow fans of the team than just resharing MSG Networks content.

“These are not only three teams that we think all will be pushing to make the playoffs, but three teams with really interesting storylines with a lot of young players that should be on their respective teams for years to come,” Marotta said. “There is a lot of excitement for the future and we’re seeing that from the fans – we’re just trying to give them things to be excited about what we’re doing as well.”