The NHL(National Hockey League) and ESL(Electronic Sports League) are teaming up to bring fans a new matchup series on EA Sports NHL 20. The esports gaming challenge will include actual players from the 31 league teams pitted against each other virtually, through a new initiative called the NHL Player Gaming Challenge. Sponsored by Honda, it will launch on April 30 and be broadcast on NBCSN, Sportsnet One, all of the NHL’s social channels and its Twitch. Fans are encouraged to follow along with the series on social media using the hashtag #HockeyAtHome. With the cancellation of many live sports games during the pandemic, the virtual hockey games could help keep fans entertained until the season possibly reconvenes in the summer.
In addition to entertaining fans, the gaming series could engage advertisers, many of whom have been looking to fill the void left by live sport cancellations. Many brands that traditionally lean into live sporting events, like Honda, have been searching for ways to continue marketing to sports fans during the pandemic. Similar to advertisers for the NFL Draft, which targeted viewers stuck at home watching TV, the NHL Player Gaming Challenge gives brands a chance to expand sports marketing beyond in-stadium advertisements. Advertising in the NHL’s gaming videos can help brands be more awareness-oriented and grow their social presence, according to a Gartner report on the topic. As part of the campaign, the ESL and the NHL are donating $100,000 to the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 relief efforts.
Sports marketing has been turned on its head during the COVID-19 crisis as brands swiftly adapt to the changing market. While the NHL awaits a verdict on its current season, its athletes can play hockey virtually, possibly satisfying loyal fans and brand sponsors until the real-life games resume.