WSC Sports is helping to fuel the Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan’s game-changing digital strategy, creating new engagement opportunities inside and outside arenas.
Like many aspirational sports league executives worldwide, Gabriel Monidelle, the chief executive of the Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan, pinpoints the NBA as a benchmark when it comes to digital fan engagement.
For Monidelle, who has steered the growth of ice hockey’s second tier in Sweden for nearly three years after previously serving as chief commercial officer, his admiration of the North American basketball league is both personal and professional.
As a self-confessed hoops fanatic, he has been captivated by the league’s continuous attempts to push digital boundaries. A well-documented example occurred earlier this year with an astonishing on-stage demonstration of how fans will, in the future, be able to overlay themselves onto actual players via NBA app game coverage.
However, Monidelle also believes a bold broad approach to digital is far too rare in an industry that is typically shackled by caution – and he is wary of the HockeyAllsvenskan falling into the same trap. Accordingly, he keeps a quote from legendary motor-racing driver Mario Andretti above his desk that simply says: “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”
Monidelle tells SportBusiness: “Most leagues and teams are a bit afraid to embarrass themselves, so they play it safe in digital and social engagement. However, when you play safe, you get safe. If you run a power plant, playing safe is the way to go. But if you want to win, you have to take chances. You have to have a culture of learning that empowers employees and minimises bureaucracy – and you have to fail fast.”
“With the NBA, I love how they act like a small company in how quickly they innovate with fan engagement. They don’t hesitate: they just scale up.”
Such was Monidelle’s appreciation for the NBA’s digital strategy, he made it his mission to discover the league’s digital partners in an effort to replicate some of the basketball league’s creativity in the space. That is how he came across WSC Sports, which has collaborated with the NBA since 2015.
“We were curious about how the NBA utilizes such a volume of digital content so effectively, and when we learnt it was thanks to the support of providers like WSC Sports, we acted swiftly,” Monidelle explains.
In the first season of the HockeyAllsvenskan’s partnership with WSC Sports, more than half of the 14 clubs used the WSC Sports software to automate and distribute highlights from games. Ahead of the second season of the collaboration, which begins in late September, Monidelle is confident that all 14 will adopt the solution, given how impactful it has been so far.
“With WSC Sports, the quantity and quality of gameday and non-gameday content is huge – and it needs to be as competition for attention on the internet is massive,” he says. “The sheer volume of content we can now push out thanks to this partnership frees up lots of staff hours for our clubs.”
However, WSC Sports’ support for the league extends beyond online engagement and expanding the clubs’ digital footprints across websites and social media channels.
As part of a holistic approach to digital, WSC Sports is also working with the HockeyAllsvenskan to enhance the in-arena experience by showing highlights of other games and other snippets on big screens during game intermissions. This content is often accompanied by a sponsor logo, opening up additional commercial opportunities for clubs.
“We know that nothing beats the experience of watching sport live, but we also have to be aware that fans can have more content at their fingertips if they watch from home,” Monidelle says. “With that in mind, we have tried to introduce a couple of pieces of digital content. Firstly, showing goals and updates from other games is a really nice feature. Secondly, as this is a very stats-heavy sport, we try to include plenty of relevant game data on the screens.”
Whilst Monidelle is quick to point out that the HockeyAllsvenskan’s priority is to strive for sold-out arenas, he is confident that, with the support of partners like WSC Sports, the digital content strategy complements rather than cannibalizes the live experience.
As part of this, curated digital output showcases the in-arena experience, featuring the sights and sounds from a seat at the big game, and not just the action on the ice.
“If teams don’t show that then the people who follow on social media won’t know what it could be like,” Monidelle says.
This strategy appears to be working. There were increases across all metrics over the first year of the WSC partnership, including a 27% increase in the league’s average attendance figure. Meanwhile, television viewing figures have more than doubled over the past two seasons.
“The key is to work really closely with the clubs,” Monidelle adds. “We have established lots of small working groups that meet once a month and comprise key personnel from each club to discuss everything from sponsorships to CRM systems to digital strategies. This helps to transfer knowledge.”
The league also holds regular meetings with fans to ensure the popularity of the product itself continues to gain momentum. When it comes to the digital output, though, the league is clear in its efforts to attract new generations of followers.
“We communicate with everyone like they are 15 years old, and we focus on the kids as much as possible,” Monidelle says. “This includes us trying out online ‘watchalong’ events with former stars, and focusing on ensuring the first one or two seconds of a clip are highly engaging, to capture their attention.”
At the heart of the digital strategy is a joined-up approach that highlights the league’s entertaining qualities. This is something Monidelle is keen for the clubs to build upon in the second year of the WSC Sports partnership.
“Digital is evolving so fast that it can be hard to find the right companies to work with,” Monidelle says. “Let’s be honest – there are a gazillion out there that claim they can make a positive impact. So, it’s a tough landscape to navigate. However, with companies like WSC Sports, which have a track record in this space, we are ensuring that our clubs have the right knowledge and tools.”
“I want to see more user-generated content this season from fans at home as well as in the arena. Above all, I want to see more content that shows the lifestyle of the league and sport, especially among younger fans. After all, being a fan is part of your identity.”