John Collins (sports executive)
John Collins (born November 27, 1961) is an American professional sports executive, now serving as Chief Operating Officer of the National Hockey League. Previously he was an executive with the National Football League.
As the NHL’s chief operating officer since August 2008, Collins is responsible for strategic leadership for all of the League’s global business, marketing, sales,broadcast and digital media operations. Joining the NHL in 2006, Collins became Senior Executive Vice President, Business and Media in May 2007. His work with the NHL has led to a record number of sponsors and television viewers, resulting in a jump in total revenues from $2 billion in 2008 to $3.2 billion in 2011, the last full season revenue was reported prior to this year’s lockout-shortened campaign. Chicago Blackhawks owner and chairman Rocky Wirtz said, “We’re going to add another billion dollars in gross revenue in the very near future. The CBA is long-term [10 years, with opt-outs for the league and players after eight], and now the focus is on growth. I’m extremely happy about the future of the NHL.”
In May 2011, the NHL was named Sports League of the Year by the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily. In 2010, Collins was named an “Executive of the Year” by the American Business Awards, winning a Stevie Award for his success with the NHL.
Prior to joining the NHL, Collins spent 15 years with the National Football League. As Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales for the NFL, Collins led all marketing, programming, sponsorship, and advertising sales functions and was a key member of the team that launched the NFL Network. He negotiated billions of dollars of marketing and advertising deals, including a landmark, 10-year, $1.2 billion league-wide deal with Pepsi.
Collins was President & Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland Browns from 2004-06. Starting in 2002 with the inauguration of the "NFL Kickoff" celebration at Times Square, he steered the NFL's focus toward big events, ultimately increasing NFL sponsorships by $1.9 billion, and doubled annual corporate sponsorship revenues to more than $200 million in 14 months. He also presided over the Super Bowl XXXVI halftime show featuring U2. These successes led to Advertising Age naming him one of America's top 50 marketers in 2003.
Collins began his career in professional sports with NFL Films, where he helped introduce programming such as HBO’s Hard Knocks and Inside the NFL. Collins later teamed up with HBO Sports and its 24/7 reality franchise to develop “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic,” which won a Sports Emmy Award for “Outstanding Edited Sports Special” in May 2011. The program is now repeated annually for every Winter Classic.
On April 20, 2011, the NHL and NBC Sports Group announced a 10-year broadcast deal reportedly worth $2 billion – roughly $125 million a year more than reported sums under the previous NHL deal with Versus. Starting with the 2011-12 season, NBC Sports Group is broadcasting 100 regular season hockey games across its networks and for the first time all NHL playoff games are broadcast nationally. By showing every game of the playoffs nationally, the NHL can create “eight weeks of nonstop coverage,” said Collins, who was the lead strategist on the deal.  This has increased viewership: the 2013 Stanley Cup final was the most-watched on record and the playoffs were the most-watched since 1997, up 18% from 2012. The most watched single game was the 2011 Game 7.
In February 2011, Collins negotiated a sponsorship deal for Coors to become the official beer of the NHL -- MillerCoors in the United States and MolsonCoors in Canada. Worth $375 million over seven years, The New York Times called it the biggest corporate sponsorship in N.H.L. history, noting, “For the N.H.L., the new beer sponsorship demonstrates its progress in recent years, especially in reaching young, affluent, technologically savvy fans who love their ice-cold suds.”
NHL Stadium Series
The NHL announced the 2014 NHL Stadium Series (branded the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series), an upcoming series of outdoor regular season National Hockey League games. These are designed to “capture the imagination of the local markets and become a touchstone for the casual fan,” wrote ESPN’s Scott Burnside, who quoted Collins saying, “You have to be at these events to understand how the game becomes a gathering point for a community, the way a community lights up around hockey. That local impact is incredibly powerful."
In July 2013, the NHL announced another stadium game with the return of the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in 2014, with the Vancouver Canucks versus the Ottawa Senators at the BC Place in Vancouver on March 2. The 2011 Heritage Classic led NHL.com to its best Sunday performance of the season and merchandise sales for the outdoor game were the third-largest ever for an NHL event.
NHL Winter Classic
In 2007, Collins spearheaded the development of the NHL Winter Classic, played outdoors on New Year’s Day, with NBC Sports executive Jon Miller, who told The Boston Globe that the key to making the game successful was “Collins’s vision, energy, and passion.” The Classic’s success earned Collins Marketer of the Year by Advertising Age Magazine. Sports Illustrated columnist Dan Shaughnessy said of the new Winter Classic, “now hockey owns New Year's Day the way baseball owns the Fourth of July and football owns Thanksgiving.” Sports Business Journal named the NHL Winter Classic the 2008 “Event of the Year.” Revenues for the 2010 Classic, played between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers, were expected to generate $8 million in ticket sales at Fenway Park and $3 million in ad sales for NBC.
The 2012 NHL Winter Classic saw the New York Rangers defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2. Since New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday, the game was moved to January 2. It was reported that the game generated as much as $36 million in revenues to its host city, Philadelphia.
The 2014 Winter Classic will pit the Detroit Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. It will be the first time a Canadian team is involved in the Winter Classic, and the first time two teams from different conferences will play each other during this event. The game was originally planned to be played on January 1, 2013, as the 2013 NHL Winter Classic, but was postponed due to the 2012–13 NHL lockout. The stadium holds more than 100,000 and the game is expected to set a North American record for attendance at a sporting event.
Use of technology
Collins has made expanding technology to sports fans a priority in his career. Yahoo! Sports labeled the NHL’s use of social media of the “Five best NHL decisions of the last decade,” noting, “The NHL had an official YouTube channel and Twitter before most other leagues knew those things are (and in fact the NFL and MLB still make YouTube pull down any clips using their broadcasts, which is six distinct kinds of stupid).” The article also praised the NHL for its use of Twitter-exclusive contests for their fans and the extensive archives on NHL.com.
As of July 2013, the NHL’s Facebook and Twitter pages have 2.7 million fans and 2 million followers respectively. Vitrue, Inc. named the NHL among the top-50 most social brands in the world.
Collins spearheaded the NHL Network Online, creating partnerships with news sites and portals, blogs, video hubs, and digital retail outposts. The NHL’s strategy under Collins is different than many other major sports franchises, which have resisted digital syndication efforts. This may be because, while hockey’s fan base is smaller, it is generally more affluent. NHL.com quickly saw significantly more traffic (up 135 percent from August 2009 to February 2010), receiving a record 13.4 million unique visits in January 2010.
Under Collins, the NHL has introduced an “all-access” service. This integration has contributed to a “66 percent annual average increase in sponsor support and ad spending on our media properties as well,” Collins told The Wall Street Journal. The League has also unveiled NHL GameCenter LIVE, enabling fans to watch out-of-market games via live video. These improvements in part led Fast Company Magazine to name the NHL one of the most innovative companies in 2009.
Rising NHL popularity
Collins explained his philosophy for expanding NHL viewership: "We feel like the sport...is bigger than the business, and the focus on creating a national halo can definitely lift the sport to another level.” The NHL has seen considerable rise in popularity in recent years, with rising viewership, ad revenue, merchandising, and Internet traffic. In May 2011, Ad Age reported the NHL was on pace for its fifth consecutive year of record total revenue and quoted Collins saying, "What I try to bring is a perspective where the NHL just needs to think bigger … The Stanley Cup should be, and could be, as big as March Madness from a ratings standpoint and an advertising standpoint."
This recent trend, plus the NBC Sports Deal, resulted in the 2013 Stanley Cup final was the most-watched on record, up 91% from 2012. The entire Stanley Cup playoffs were the most-watched since 1997, up 18% from 2012.
About the increased attention to hockey, Collins has said, "I love the potential of our sport. The Stanley Cup is one of the biggest brands out there. We have an incredible fanbase and our league is filled with some of the best people around. We have an extraordinary opportunity for the NHL to take a giant leap forward, so this is a very exciting time for us.”
- “NHL projects a $1B boost in revenue”, “Sports Business Daily,” June 24, 2013
- "NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE RECOGNIZED BY THE SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL AS THE SPORTS LEAGUE OF THE YEAR" (Press release). NHL. May 18, 2011. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- The American Business Awards: The Stevies
- “Pepsi Agrees Multi-Million Dollar NHL Deal”, “NHL.com,” June 19, 2006
- “New HBO '24/7' Will Follow Pittsburgh Penguins”, “WTAE 4,” Pittsburgh, Sept. 23, 2010
- Mamudi, Sam. “NBC, NHL reach 10-year broadcast deal”, “Market Watch,” April 19, 2011
- “8.16 MILLION VIEWERS WATCH CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS WIN STANLEY CUP ON NBC”, Press Release, June 25, 2013
- Sandomir, Richard. “N.H.L. Gets Boost With a Nearly $400 Million Beer Deal”, “The New York Times,” February 22, 2011
- Burnside, Scott. “Six Outdoor Games Not Such a Bad Thing”, “ESPN,” May 1, 2013
- “Canucks, Senators meet in 2014 NHL Heritage Classic”, “NHL.com,” July 10, 2013
- Dupont, Kevin Paul. “Ice Men Cometh – Collins, Miller Get The Big Assists For Delivering Frozen Goods”, “The Boston Globe”, Boston, December 29, 2009.
- “Ad Age”, 2008
- Shaughnessy, Dan. “NHL's Winter Classic makes every New Year's Day a hockey day”, “Sports Illustrated,” December 28, 2009
- Nominees Named for the 2010 Sports Business Awards
- Sandomir, Richard and Belson, Ken. “Winter Classic Generates Hot Buzz And Cold Cash”, “The New York Times,” December 30, 2009.
- "Rangers turn away Flyers as Mike Rupp, Henrik Lundqvist fuel Winter Classic rally". ESPN. 2 January 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
- Maynard, Micheline. “What's a Hockey Game Worth?”, “The Atlantic,” January 2, 2012
- “Red Wings, Maple Leafs to meet in 2014 NHL Winter Classic”, “CBC Sports,” April 7, 2013
- Lambert, Ryan, “The 5 best, 5 worst NHL decisions in the last decade”, Yahoo! Sports, Nov. 26, 2009
- NHL Facebook page
- NHL Twitter page
- “The Vitrue 100: Top Social Brands of 2009”, “Vitrue.com” Jan. 4, 2010
- Champions of the Turnstiles
- Fisher, Eric and Mickle, Tripp. “NHL Pushes Digital Syndication Efforts”, “Sports Business Journal,” February 10, 2010
- Goode, Lauren. “All-Access’ Hockey for Olympic Games”, “The Wall Street Journal,” February 11, 2010
- Goode, Lauren. “NHL Goes After Digital Hockey Fans”, “The Wall Street Journal,” October 27, 2010
- Fast Company Magazine names NHL.com one of 10 Most Innovative Sports Companies, “NHL.com,” Feb. 18, 2009
- Feifer, Jason. “How The NHL's John Collins Is Creating A Nation Of Passionate Puckheads”, “Fast Company,” December 12, 2011
- Klayman, Ben. “The NHL'S Come Far, but John Collins Wants More”, “Reuters,” Oct. 8, 2010
- Thomaselli, Rich. “The NHL'S Come Far, but John Collins Wants More”, “Ad Age,” May 9, 2011
- “FanHouse's Breakfast With NHL COO John Collins”, AOL News, Aug. 11, 2010