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Author's profile photo Doug Shirra

Lessons in Media: An 81-yr-old, the NHL Playoffs & the MLB All-Star Game

I don’t mean to over-simplify this example, but when an 81-year-old NHL hockey pundit in Canada can literally change the outcome of the starting lineup of (US dominated) Major League Baseball’s All-Star game, you can bet there are some examples for sales and marketing professionals to learn from.

Canada’s Don Cherry (a ‘tell it like it is’ hockey man who once coached Bobby Orr’s Boston Bruins as well as the former Colorado Rockies) used his regular TV segment (note: traditional media) on ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ during the NHL Playoffs to call out, in his words, “an injustice being done in baseball”.

Cherry was referring to the fact that Kansas City Royals fans have dominated the American League all-star vote and that Toronto Blue Jays’ 3B Josh Donaldson, who Cherry called  “without a doubt, the best third baseman in the world” was millions of votes behind the leading vote getter. Then Cherry – taking a page from the millennials – held up a hand-written sign of how to vote and took his story a step further:We cannot look bad in Canada.”

Cherry made this case on live television as part of his regular “Coach’s Corner” segment during the NHL Playoff game on Saturday June 13th. At that time, Donaldson trailed Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas by 1.7 million votes. A week later, the data had changed significantly. Josh Donaldson received 4.12 million new votes – the most of any player in the week – and a nearly 85% increase on his total votes to that point.

Wow. This is where a quirky sports story becomes an interesting learning point for marketers.

Here’s a few thoughts:

Traditional Marketing Still Offers Big Rewards

As we manage the transition to digital marketing, there are still very valid and rewarding reasons to invest in traditional media – without a doubt TV (as one example) still drives behaviour, and it can still do it quickly.

Storytelling is King

Don Cherry took a baseball message to hockey fans at a hockey game. This was totally unexpected. But he clearly and concisely told his story and made it a national issue of pride. This motivated hockey fans across the world’s second largest geography to get online and vote for a game in which they have no local stake (note: there are no MLB teams in any Canadian city other than Toronto).

Social Program Structure Needs To Get More Credible

MLB’s unsophisticated social media voting program has got a lot of bad PR this year. And they do deserve it. There’s been tons of voter ‘fraud’ and even the legitimate voter is allowed to submit nearly 30 votes? Why? I felt silly sitting on my iPhone clicking resubmit so many times (but I did so because Don Cherry told me too!). It’s a good reminder that social media contest and interaction in general must stay simple and easy to use, but must structurally mature to maintain credibility.

The Power of Celebrity Ambassadors

Using celebrities to endorse products is not a new tactic. And everyone is aware of the potential negative reflection they can have on the sponsor’s brand if the celebrity goes sour (Tiger Woods, right?). But one take away from Don Cherry is that Ambassadors have the power to inspire digital media behavior too. It’s not just ‘go to the store and buy something’ or ‘call and donate to this cause.’ It’s good for marketing to know the action requested can immediately translate into a social media / digital marketing outcome as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story and ideas about how it demonstrates the convergence of traditional and digital media.

And, while the outcome is by no mean certain yet, when you watch the All-star game this year and @BringerofRain20 Josh Donaldson is starting at 3B for the American League…just remember that a stubborn, loud, ‘tell it like it is’ 81-year-old hockey pundit spoke up, mobilized a country on social media and gave all marketers something to think about.

ohhh, almost forgot, ‘Let’s Go Blue Jays’.

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