by Jas Faulkner, contributing editor
Dr. Hook and Shel Silverstein may have been on to something* in 1973 when they wrote their tribute to that symbol of rock and roll success, getting the cover story of Rolling Stone magazine. Covers can mean a lot. Whether it’s the snooty prestige of the September issue of Vogue, the notoriety of Time’s “Person of the Year” or the unveiling of the swimsuit model who will warm the cockles of SI subscribers in February, getting that coveted spot tells everyone in your field that you have arrived.
On June 20th, a different sort of cover reveal will take place amidst the accolades the professional hockey press and fate will bestow on players, coaches, and other illuminati who make the NHL what it is. This cover, which is chosen by fans, will appear on something considerably less ephemeral than a slick periodical destined to be replaced by the next edition in a matter of days or weeks. Whoever is revealed on the 20th will enjoy a full year of being the cover model for EA Sports NHL 13.
Twenty One Years and Over Two Dozen Players Ago…
An action shot of Mike Richter and Randy Moller of the Rangers and Flyers centre Rod Brind’Amour was the first EA cover to feature actual players. Two previous editions used photos, but they were staged shots with models posing as players. Nineteen years later, another Flyer may be the third player from Philadelphia to appear on the cover. The only person standing in Claude Giroux’s way is someone who is no stranger to denying the opposition. Pekka Rinne, the first Nashville player to make it to the final round, has a fan base that gave voters in the City of Brotherly Love some serious competition.
Sean Ramjagsingh, lead producer of NHL13, admits that while both candidates are deserving, the results so far were unexpected:
“To be 100% honest, I was very surprised to see Pekka Rinne make it to the final two. Nashville was ready to make a long run at the cup and I would not have been surprised to see Pekka Rinne in the final two IF the Preds were in the Stanley Cup Final. For them to have been eliminated in the second round and Rinne still move forward has to be the Cinderella story of the Cover Vote.”
From Sean Henry’s vantage point, the kind of devotion that would push the Vezina finalist ahead of players who were still in the running for the Stanley Cup was inevitable. The Predators COO has seen the franchise hit a number of historic firsts over the past two years.
“The response from fans has been overwhelming. EA Sports had more than 24 million ballots cast for the cover vote tournament – that’s an incredible response. Hitting closer to home, the fact that Pekka Rinne, in a fan vote, reached the finals is a tribute to his and the Predators’ growing popularity… It really was a testament to our loyal fan base.”
In Philadelphia, Scott Hartnell devoted his energy to a video campaign featuring his cats and plugs for Giroux and his charitable foundation, HartnellDown. When he was eliminated in favour of Penguins centre, Evgeni Malkin, he focused on garnering support for teammate Giroux. Lauren Cochran, senior manager of New Media for the Philadelphia Flyers, sees Giroux as a natural for the cover.
“There is no question that there are plenty of deserving players that would be great on the cover NHL13, but Claude Giroux had an excellent season that went well beyond his play on the ice. This year he emerged as a leader on this team and that gets us all excited for what more there is to come from him and this team.”
From Daily Pulp to Tweets in the Ether
For the people involved with the project at EA, this campaign has given them a front row seat to watching the ways large groups of people can move and be moved by social media.
“The entire Cover Vote campaign has been extraordinary in the way that it has engaged fans but what has really taken it to another level has been the engagement from the players themselves, their teammates plus the team’s social media departments,” mused Ramjagsingh, “To see the Cover Vote play out through Social Media has been entertaining for everyone. When you look at the players that use Social Media effectively and have the biggest following, it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if Paul Bissonnette (BizNasty2point0) would have been one of the candidates!
To see players making videos or throwing their support behind other players from different teams after they have been eliminated or even the friendly jabs between teams have all led to the Cover Vote receiving over 25 Million total votes and entertaining the entire hockey world. ”
Both Cochran and Henry credit their teams’ fan bases and the local media for being the main force behind the support on the ground in both cities. While traditional media certainly played a part, it was smart use of social media that made the difference. In Philadelphia, support came from local and national celebrities and the close-knit community of professional athletes who represent the city.
“This was the first year the fans were able to choose the cover of this game and it was something that was important to both Flyers players chosen to participate,” Cochran said, “Social media had a tremendous impact on the voting. The bulk of promotion came from our fans, Flyers teammates and other Philadelphia athletes as well as celebrities.”
Henry acknowledged the contribution the Predators’ already well-connected online community played in the success of the campaign so far. Their efforts were augmented by the involvement of many celebrities who call Nashville home.
“Our fan base was crucial in helping spread the word about the vote. They helped us expand the campaign beyond hockey fans by reaching out to and involving celebrity fans and even former players through Twitter. Michael W. Smith, Charlie Sheen, Carrie Underwood, Hot Chelle Rae and Rascal Flatts were just a few of the celebrities who supported Pekka. Former Preds players Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward lent their support as well.”
No Prognostication and Lots of Diplomacy
It’s telling that the two players left standing were also the two whose campaigns were the least combative. It also says a lot about these players and their clubs that involvement and support went well beyond the confines of the Flyers’ and Predators’ diehard population. Representatives in both cities were impressed by the creativity and tenacity they saw in their competition.
Even though she certainly wants to see her own candidate win, Lauren Cochran doesn’t hesitate to praise Predsnation. “Nashville did a tremendous job getting their fan base behind Rinne. We wish them the best of luck, but certainly hope the passion and support Flyers fans displayed pays off in the end”
Sean Henry is just as complimentary towards the Flyers’ camp. “We had a really fun time with this campaign, and I think the Flyers did too. Giroux is a world-class player and Philadelphia is a great organization. That being said, we definitely hope it’s Pekka on the cover of NHL 13!”
The campaigns were distinguished by far-reaching support and a tremendous amount of creativity on the part of the players, their organizations, and their fans. Striking online graphics were accompanied by audio ads, videos and hundreds if not thousands of mockup covers.
While no one would give a hint about who won, Sean Ramjagsingh suggested Rinne might have an edge for reasons that go beyond the colours and logo on his sweater.
“I know that there are a lot of EA SPORTS NHL fans outside of the Nashville area that are voting for Rinne as they really want to see a goalie on the cover of NHL 13 since we haven’t had a goalie since NHL 97.”
During a call with Predators and Flyers fans who are currently stationed in Germany, everyone on Skype at the European side of the conversation confirmed that they want to be watching to see who will be on the cover.
“Over here the announcement will most likely be sometime between four and five in the morning. We will be up to see which of our guys makes the cut. It’s gonna be so worth it!”
*Or simply on something. Yes, I went there. Hey, it was the seventies, it was Dr. Hook and you know you thought it, too.