By Barry Janoff
November 20, 2014: With the annual Bridgestone Winter Classic coming Jan. 1 and the Coors Light Stadium Series following on Feb. 15, the NHL is planning some Epix marketing to support its two crown-jewel outdoor events.
Anchoring the marketing as a build-up to the games will be Road To The NHL Winter Classic and Road To The NHL Stadium Series, each comprised of a four-part original series from premium TV network Epix in association with the NHL.
This marks Epix' first time producing and airing these behind-the-scenes programs after HBO ran 24/7 reality-documentaries for three of the Winter Classic match-ups.
Although Epix reaches fewer homes than HBO (22 million homes versus more than 30 million, according to industry analysts), the NHL is ramping up programming availability in an effort to make it accessible to what the league says is 60 million fans.
In addition to Epix, the subscription cable entity that is a collaboration among Hollywood studios Lionsgate Entertainment, MGM and Paramount Pictures, Road To The NHL Winter Classic and Road To The NHL Stadium Series will be available online via Epix and the NHL , Epix and NHL Facebook pages, the official app of the NHL (available on Android and iOS) and via the Epix app (on Android, iOS, XBOX 360, PS3, PS4, Roku and Windows 8).
People in the U.S. who currently do not subscribe to Epix are being given the opportunity to register for a limited free trial to the service at the Epix Web site.
Overall marketing support includes TV, print, radio, outdoor, Internet and social media. A promo spot for the Winter Classic broke this week, with additional spots for both events to follow as the games approach.
The annual NHL Winter Classic, first played in 2008, will next be played on Jan. 1 (NBC) when the Chicago Blackhawks face the Washington Capitals outdoors in Nationals Park in the 2015 Bridgestone Winter Classic. The premiere episode of Epix Presents Road To The NHL Winter Classic is scheduled to air Tuesday, Dec. 16, with three episodes to follow on successive Tuesdays.
The NHL Coors Light Stadium Series will see the San Jose Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings outdoors in Levi's Stadium, home venue of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, on Feb. 15. The premiere Epix Presents Road To The NHL Stadium Series is scheduled to air Tuesday, Feb. 3, with three episodes also to follow on successive Tuesdays.
"One of the things that was really important in talking to Mark Greenberg (Epix CEO and president) was the promise that we could let any NHL fan who wants to see it is going to have a chance to see it," John Collins, COO for the NHL, said when the deal with Epix was unveiled in September. "He's going to open up every distribution platform they have and any fan is just going to have to go in and register, but they'll get all eight episodes of the series."
Ross Greenburg, who has won 52 Emmy Awards, and used to be president of HBO (including producing the 24/7 Winter Classic in 2011) before overseeing reality show content for the NHL, is executive producer.
"We're going to have to take it to another level," Greenburg said in September. "It just isn't good enough to do what's been done in the past. We're going to be getting the access we've always gotten from these teams and these players and the coaches and management, but we're just going to have to look at each storyline, go a little deeper, bring out the drama in this great game on the ice and off the ice."
The 2014 Winter Classic on NBC averaged 4.4 million viewers, making it the second-most watched NHL regular-season game in 39 years, behind only the 2011 NHL Winter Classic (4.5 million). The 2012 NHL Winter Classic drew 3.7 million viewers, according to NBC and the NHL.
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