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“We are inherently social animals,” he said.
Without that eye-to-eye, elbow-to-elbow connection, bonds can get frayed, and less diehard fans may turn away altogether, and invest their time and money in some other form of happy distraction.
“Younger people, especially, they need to be better engaged,” said Bruce Neve, the president of Toronto-based True Media Canada, and an expert in media strategy.
Neve has two 20-something-year-old children. Much as they love their hockey, neither would sit through three periods of a game pre-COVID-19. Engaging them requires getting creative, experimenting, trying stuff that hasn’t already been done.
For example, he said, viewers on multiple platforms could be encouraged to guess the scorer on a power play, and how the goal gets scored. Off a shot, a deke, a lucky bounce? Guess correctly and your name automatically gets entered into a raffle, with fan prizes awarded in real time.
Food sponsors could create game-night meals. Who wouldn’t want a Senators Salami Pizza, Maple Leafs Tacos or some Flaming Hot Flames Chicken Wings delivered to their door courtesy of Uber Eats?
“If people aren’t buying hot dogs and beer at the arena, how can teams access that disposable income — that’s the question?” said Rick Powers, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Other suggestions include broadcasters offering viewers more custom camera angles. Joe Fan, at home, could get to be Joe Fan, the guy who announces the goal scorer, sponsored by, say, Ford Motor Co. And the players could be prodded to be, well, less boring. The NBA is a league of mega-stars, of dash and flair. The NHL is a league of “giving it 110 per cent,” “believing in the group we have in this room,” and the like.
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