Remember times from your youth when a group was divided into teams to compete? Often, the bigger kids got picked first because, well, they were bigger. Another example of a “big bias” is shared by Zig Ziglar who points out that if a car stops at a group of kids to ask directions, the driver is likely to direct her question to the biggest child in the group… even though he may be the dumbest one in the bunch! The tendency to favor the tallest, largest, oldest or those perceived as strongest is normal, but sometimes flawed.
When it comes to selecting marketing partners, we would be well served to think back to our childhood experiences and remember bigger is not always better. This analogy came to mind this week when the National Hockey League announced a new 10-year TV broadcast deal with NBC Sports. Fan interest has grown since the NHL returned from a year-long lockout in 2005, and the Winter Classic has quickly become a New Year’s Day sporting tradition in the U.S. The NHL’s current American TV broadcast partner is Versus, a Comcast property which is now part of NBC by virtue of the NBC-Comcast merger. When the NHL debuted on Versus in 2005, it was the up and coming sports channel’s best known professional sport property.
Fast forward to 2011, and the NHL attracted the attention of other networks interested in acquiring broadcast rights, including ESPN. NHL games were broadcast on ESPN prior to the lockout of 2004-2005, but unimpressive ratings and an abundance of other sports content left ESPN with little interest in bringing the NHL after the lockout. But, ESPN was in the mix for acquiring TV broadcast rights, primarily interested in broadcasting the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the end, the NHL saw NBC as a more committed partner, one that will put resources toward promoting hockey. In contrast, NHL would be competing for attention and air time on ESPN networks that already serve up heavy portions of NBA, college basketball, college football, NFL, and MLB.
Some observers have criticized the NHL for not partnering with ESPN. Yes, ESPN is the dominant sports media brand today… with the key word being “today.” ESPN made its mark by securing leadership of televised sports in the 1980s. The media landscape has changed, and we have many options for consuming sports content- streaming games online, blogs, podcasts, mobile applications, and social media networks, to name a few. There are no guarantees that the behemoth of sports television will be the dominant sports brand of the digital age. In fact, history suggests that companies with a dominant position struggle to adapt as technologies and consumer preferences change. Look no further than General Motors and Microsoft as examples.
Bigger is not better when it comes to selecting marketing partners. Commitment to your success matters- who is willing to invest in growing your business?