January’s NHL (National Hockey League) All-Star game saw GoPro enter its first partnership with a mainstream sports property. Matthew Hochberg asked the mountable camera giant why now is the right time, and which other properties it has spoken to about similar agreements.
Sports leagues and teams who recognise the rapidly growing technological society around them can open up new revenue streams when they embrace innovation.
It is not without its risks, but it can lead to new breakthroughs when executed properly, and that’s exactly what a recent partnership between ice hockey’s NHL and mountable camera manufacturer GoPro has done.
The NHL and NHLPA (NHL Players’ Association) teamed up with GoPro to provide never-before-seen content at the league’s All-Star Weekend in January. The deal saw GoPro mounted onto the heads of players and referees and hoisted around the rink. Broadcasting partners NBC and Rodgers were given the content from GoPro free of charge, integrating it into their live TV coverage, while highlights of the game from the perspective of the GoPros were put on the camera manufacturer’s YouTube channel, one of the top five most-viewed channels on YouTube in 2014.
For California-headquartered GoPro, which underwent an IPO in June 2014 that valued the company at just under $3 billion, the NHL deal was new territory, GoPro having traditionally partnered with action sport
athletes and motor sport drivers. Members of ‘Team GoPro’ currently include skiing’s Lindsey Vonn, snowboarder Shaun White and surfer Alana Blanchard.
According to Todd Ballard, GoPro’s senior director of lifestyle marketing, the NHL deal could be one of many that are in the pipeline with “mainstream” sports.
“We’ve already had conversations with the NFL (National Football League), MLB (Major League Baseball) and the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association),” Ballard told SportBusiness International. “We want to be the definitive, live in-game solution for all sports.
“Obviously, it has to make sense for both sides – and we don’t come in as your normal, typical sponsor – but I think the NHL is a great platform for us to prove our concept not only from the perspective of compelling content, but also from the eyeballs we can bring to the game by leveraging our consumer base.
“The All-Star Game was really our first go at this and it is a great proof of concept. I think all parties involved, from the NHL and NHLPA to the broadcast partners, see the potential that comes with broadcasting from the players’ perspective in-game.”
Gliding on Ice
Ballard says there are numerous reasons why ice hockey and the All-Star Game were a good fit for GoPro.
“The fact they are gliding on ice really makes for compelling footage – no-one is running and there’s not a lot of jolting. Gliding on ice creates a better beauty shot for our cameras,” he adds.
“After meeting with the NHL, who obviously trail behind some of the bigger acronyms in major team sports, you can tell they are a little hungrier. They are willing to take a few chances at this point, they are willing to be innovative and show the game in a new perspective. Those are the things that we were looking for.
“The NHL looks at us as a marketing partner, not just a sponsor, so the ability to bring more eyeballs to the game of hockey by leveraging GoPros, social media and distribution platforms was a big of piece of the pie.”
Though Ballard acknowledges it may be too early to gauge the success of the partnership, he says he is happy with what he has witnessed on social media.
A video released shortly after the announcement of the sponsorship, featuring NHL players wearing GoPros, has amassed over two million views at the time of writing, with the GoPro All-Star Game highlights video on 217,000 views.
“The social media impressions and engagements and media impressions overall are great proof that this is something hockey fans want to see,” he says.
GoPro’s decision to delve into partnerships with mainstream sports comes at an interesting – and competitive – time for the company. Though it has challengers in the shape of the Garmin Virb and Polaroid Cube, GoPro still holds a 94-per-cent-share of the action-camera market.
However, its newest competitor is on an altogether different level, making it more important than ever for GoPro to find new ways to defend its market share.
The ability to bring more eyeballs to the game of hockey by leveraging GoPros, social media and distribution platforms was a big of piece of the pie
In mid-January, just a week before the NHL and GoPro officially announced their partnership, it was reported that consumer software giant Apple – the same Apple that reported net profit of $18 billion for its first fiscal quarter on January 28, the biggest ever by a public company – received a patent to begin making wearable cameras suitable for sports equipment such as motorcycle helmets and scuba masks. Following the news, GoPro’s share price plummeted 13 per cent in a day.
“We’ve been in the game of action sports and motor sports for four or five years and we’ve done a really good job with that audience,” says Ballard. “But mainstream sports allow us to speak to a bigger audience that will allow our brand to grow. Everything we have done has been an independent decision on what works for our brand, whether it’s partnering with an athlete or an event.
“It’s not all about the camera, it’s what the camera is enabling people to do, which is the bigger business of GoPro – capturing, creating and sharing.”