February 15, 2011, 2:28 PM

NHL discusses mobile goals and game changers

IRWD speaker explains why a mobile strategy is imperative for e-retailers.

Lead Photo

Christopher Golier, vice president of mobile marketing and strategy for the NHL.

Contrary to what some may think, National Hockey League fans as a whole are digitally savvy, Christopher Golier, vice president of mobile marketing and strategy for the NHL, told attendees today at the Internet Retailer Web Design and Usability Conference.

“They are mainly males 20 to 40 years old,” Golier said. “They are the first to buy gadgets and they are interested in being close to the game. They rank very high in the digitally savvy chart.”

That, Golier says, means mobile presents big opportunities for the NHL. And the NHL is monetizing the channel. It sells tickets and merchandise via its mobile site and apps for the BlackBerry and iPhone, as well as for Nokia devices popular among international fans and smartphones using Google Inc.’s Android operating system. It’s also selling content such as access to live video of games, particularly to international fans who can’t easily watch the action on TV.

While the NHL is a good fit for mobile, Golier encouraged all design conference attendees to develop a mobile strategy in his presentation, “How the NHL Scores with Mobile Design.”

“Mobile is such a simple proposition and companies need to just do it,” Golier said. “Do your own studies and validations and start integrating it into your business.”

For a company just getting started, a first step could be as simple as using a text messaging short code to start interacting with customers. A short code is a truncated phone number used to send and receive texts between a business and customers. A company could ask consumers to send a text message to its short code to vote in a poll or get a discount.

For retailers that want to go further and develop a mobile site or an app, Golier said to focus on two platforms: Google’s Andriod and Apple Inc.’s iOS. “All the operating systems are settling down a bit and now we know those are the two you need to think about.” These devices offer better and richer experiences than BlackBerry, which although it still has a large share of the smartphone market in the U.S. and Canada, is mainly used for e-mail and is declining in market share, he said.

Another big mobile game changer in the coming years will be the rise of the tablet. According to consultancy eMarketer, by 2013 consumers worldwide will own 154 million tablets and U.S consumers alone will carry 73 million, Golier said.

“You have to think about the tablet,” Golier said. “People have different experiences on a tablet versus a phone. We wondered if people really sit on the couch and watch the game on their tablets and our research shows they do.”

A big mobile strategy for NHL is using the channel to reach its massive and enthusiastic international market. And so NHL fans can pay for broadband video content including live games they can also watch on their tablets or smartphones. Golier says 25% of the NHL labor force is from Europe. “When we are looking at fans we try not to alienate fans in other countries,” Golier said. “Europe is a big market.” Recognizing that, the NHL teamed with Elisa, a major wireless carrier in Finland, to create an IPTV, or Internet Protocol Television, platform, as well as a mobile app for its wireless customers.

While the NHL offers access to commentary, highlights, stats, scores and more, it found what fans really want is to watch live games. So it’s designed its mobile channel with that in mind. Watch buttons greet mobile fans so they can get to the game in seconds. “We try to get people right to where we think they want to go,” Golier said. “These lead them right to the game, and keep them coming back and consuming content.”

Beyond revenue, Golier says mobile is a channel unlike others in that it lets the NHL interact with fans on the go. He encouraged attendees to use mobile to develop a relationship with customers. “Have a call to action in your marketing strategy,” Golier said. “We are always thinking about how we can use mobile to talk to fans and let them talk to us.”

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