Puck Daddy - NHL

It was as unavoidable in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs as a bandwagon fan: Eminem's song "Not Afraid," a rap anthem that recalls the much better "Lose Yourself" as a tribute to perseverance.

We heard it during highlight packages in NHL.com. We heard it coming in from a commercial break on NBC or VERSUS, and we frequently heard it during that commercial break as it pimped the Stanley Cup action for the league. Dr. Dre didn't hear from Eminem in the last few weeks as much as hockey fans did.

This is due to a strategic alliance the league has entered into with a few music acts that could seriously affect the star wattage for events like the Stanley Cup Finals, the Winter Classic and the NHL Awards in the future.

The league offers dozens of media outlets and delivery points for a recording industry that's scratching for every dime it can recover in the digital age; the recording industry, in turn, offers the NHL a chance to be something it's frankly been unable to do in most of its attempts at Hollywood partnerships: Becoming hip with the kids.

"Clearly not a new page in the marketing playbook, but new to us: We're going down a path to create some strategic music alliances," said Brian Jennings, VP of marketing for the NHL. "What we wanted to do was reach out to a broader fan base."

Is this a giant market correction after whatever the hell that Chaka Khan appearance at last year's NHL Awards was supposed to be?

"This is certainly a departure from that," he said. "When we looked at that last year, we decided to move in a different direction. So, correct."

Jennings said the NHL has partnered with three recording artists for the postseason and part of the offseason: Eminem, Shinedown and Snoop Dogg.

Shinedown's "Sound of Madness" was another frequently featured song in music montages. Snoop, who first danced with the NHL during the Anaheim Ducks' run in 2007, had his song "Pronto" featured as well.

Neither song had the saturation of Eminem's tune during the playoffs. 

"It's been unavoidable, yeah. But that's good if you're picking up on that. What point does it hit the point of saturation?" said Jennings.

Shinedown will appear at the NHL Awards in Vegas, as will Travis Barker from Blink-182. Snoop will perform on tape during the show. (No Eminem, however, though his music will likely be featured.)

"We wanted to take the music a 180 from where it's been. Give it more energy, give it better flow throughout the show," said Jennings.

What's the point of these partnerships? 

These artists are music industry guinea pigs for the NHL's grand experiment: Showing Hollywood that it can increase sales, increase attention and bring a wider audience to an artist that appears on their branded entertainment shows.

The recording industry is going through a seismic shift. The NHL, meanwhile, has a captive audience in the arena, has plenty of room for music on television and other avenues to promote artists. Think about how many stars, for example, have appeared on Monday Night RAW to push product; you really think Jeremy Piven cares who holds the Intercontinental Title if he doesn't have a movie opening that Friday?

"If we can show them there's a lift and a bump with being associated with the NHL, then we can see more and more of these," said Jennings.

Three criticisms of the current approach. First, most obviously, is a gender-based one.

It's one thing to send Chaka Khan offstage; it's another to make three high-profile partnerships with artists and not have one of them be a female singer.

Give it time, said Jennings. "You have this year's campaign, and then you go into a certain market and someone else works really well," he said, noting that James Taylor played the Winter Classic in Fenway.

Jennings also said that Sheryl Crow had been in talks to play the NHL Awards.

The second critique, and not one we endorse: The controversial nature of Snoop and Eminem as promotional partners. The league's gotten tagged by the media before for the Snoop association, given his gang past and drug endorsement. Jennings said it's not a problem for the NHL: "It's not necessarily intended that someone is endorsing a lifestyle."

The third critique: Relevance. Does Eminem play with the early 20s crowd downloading Crosby and Ovechkin highlights? Does Snoop Dogg?

From a demographic standpoint, does the NHL need to go younger with its celebrities?

Enter Justin Bieber.

The Canadian-born 16-year-old who can't use a comb is a singing sensation and recently spent time with the Stanley Cup on "The Today Show."

"His label said he wants something to do with hockey. This is all a positive for us," said Jennings.

If you thought the playoffs had a large bandwagon, wait until Bieber Fever hits.

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