John Collins (sports executive)
John Collins (born November 27, 1961) is an American professional sports executive, who previously served as Chief Operating Officer of the National Hockey League, which was named "Sports League of the Year" by the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily in 2014 and 2011. Previously he was an executive with the National Football League.
As the NHL’s chief operating officer since August 2008, Collins has been the architect of a brand and business strategy that has helped transform the NHL and driven unprecedented levels of popularity and financial growth over the past decade. His strategic vision for the NHL brand focuses on three pillars: build national scale for a sport, business and fan base that has been historically more tribal than other leagues; foster innovation and deploy the latest technology to create the best content for fans across new and multiple platforms; and expand the League's reach in North America and new international markets through innovative and strategic partnerships.
Collins is responsible for strategic leadership for all of the League’s global business, marketing, sales,broadcast and digital media operations while working closely with the 30 clubs to support their ticketing, media and business operations. Joining the NHL in 2006, Collins became Senior Executive Vice President, Business and Media in May 2007. Since Collins' arrival, the League has grown from a $2B to a $4B industry, with national businesses averaging 18% annual revenue growth and 28% annual operating profit growth over his tenure.
Not only is the League poised to top $4 billion in revenue in the season ahead, it is forecasting to top $4.5 billion by the 2017-18 season.
The League in benefiting from a sharp rise in national revenue, which includes league wide sponsorships, media rights deals and licensing. In 2005-06, national revenue accounted for about 7 percent of total League revenue, but now makes up nearly 20 percent of that figure. In addition, national revenue has grown about 20 percent a year, while the local team revenue that makes up the rest of the League's total revenue figure has grown about 4 percent a year.
The signs of this growth include partnerships with GoPro, SAP, DraftKings, MLB Advanced Media and Adidas, as well as renewals with Bridgestone and Sirius XM. There's also the relaunch of the World Cup of Hockey, set for 2016.
At the forefront of the League's growth, Collins' accomplishments include the negotiation of a $2.2B media rights deal in 2011 with NBC, a $5.2B landmark rights agreement in 2013 with Rogers - the largest media deal in League and Canadian history - and a groundbreaking $1B digital media rights partnership in 2015 with Major League Baseball Advanced Media.
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.”
During his tenure, Collins has led many new programming and technology initiatives, including the Winter Classic and Stadium Series outdoor games, which have played to sold-out football and baseball stadiums across the country, popular collaborations with HBO and EPIX around all-access “24/7” series, the launch of the popular GameCenter LIVE streaming game subscription product and the introduction and launch of the NHL Network to 50 million U.S. homes. In conjunction with the NHL Players Association, Collins led the development of and negotiations for the “World Cup of Hockey” to be played in Toronto in September 2016 with participation from 15 international federations. In September 2015, the NHL and Adidas, Fanatics and Outer Stuff announced a new $1B consumer products model designed to better and more directly serve NHL fans.
In May 2011, the NHL was named "Sports League of the Year" by the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily and again in 2014. The Winter Classic was also feted by SBJ/SBD as the "Event of the Year" twice, with those honors coming in 2006 and 2014. The NHL was selected as "Marketer of the Uear" (2008) by Advertising Age, and was labeled one of the "Most Innovative Companies" by Fast Company (2009). 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.
NBC Sports Group
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.”
Canadian media rights
In November 2013, Collins led the NHL negotiations to partner with Rogers Communications for exclusive rights to broadcast all national hockey telecasts in Canada. Estimated to more than double its Canadian television revenue, the 12-year deal is worth $5.2 billion.
The largest media rights arrangement in NHL history – and the largest ever sports-media deal ever in Canada – it will kick off in the 2014-15 season and run through the 2025-26 season.
Collins said, "Over the course of 12 years it provides a lot of economic certainty for the clubs and, ultimately, for the cap. Fifty cents of every dollar goes into the player salaries, so this is a significant increase and it certainly helps us get to the $4 billion goal that we've been talking about."
CBS Sports’ Chris Peters said, “It is an unprecedented kind of deal in North American sports television. Rogers basically controls everything surrounding live NHL games in Canada with the exception of some regional broadcasts in Winnipeg and Montreal. … a deal like this is further proof that the game is as healthy and vibrant as it ever has been and the future looks only brighter because of it.”
Major League Baseball Advanced Media media rights partnership
In August 2015, the NHL and Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the interactive media and Internet company of Major League Baseball, announced a groundbreaking digital media rights partnership.
The partnership will transform the fan experience by creating a fully integrated global hub of digital content that encompasses video, live game streaming, social media, fantasy, apps, along with statistical and analytical content. With an emphasis on deeper access into the game and telling the stories of NHL players, MLBAM and the NHL will collaborate on developing new digital products and platforms while enhancing current offerings.
The six-year partnership will allow MLBAM to gain access to NHL content, while the NHL gains access to MLBAM's technology in an attempt to give fans a better experience. The agreement gives MLBAM rights to distribute live out-of-market games, including through the NHL GameCenter LIVE and NHL Center Ice subscription services in the U.S. and certain international markets.
MLBAM will operate NHL.com, including the League's seven native language sites, and Club websites. MLBAM will operate NHL apps and be available to develop apps for the Clubs. The NHL and MLBAM will partner on the design and development of new digital products and platforms. The NHL and its Clubs retain editorial control across all platforms. The Emmy-Award winning MLB Network will provide studio space and production resources for the NHL Network for distribution in the United States and certain international markets.
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 pitted the Detroit Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the University of Michigan's "Big House" in Ann Arbor. The event set several records. The crowd of 105,491 is the largest to ever to see a hockey game…and the 8.2 million television viewers in the U.S. (NBC) and Canada (CBC) is a North American record for a regular season game.
It was the first time a Canadian team played in the Winter Classic. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said, “The feeling when the players walked into the 87-year-old stadium in front of more than 100,000 fans was truly something special. The biggest and best Winter Classic of them all lived up to its advanced billing.” The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox said, “The ability of the NHL to use this event to bottle the joy of the sport was again the undisputed victor.”
SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily named the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic the “Event of the Year” in 2009 and 2014. In May 2014, Collins said, "Our great partners at Bridgestone and NBC also play a vital role and we're grateful to the SportsBusiness Journal for once again recognizing the Winter Classic as an event that does what sports is supposed to do: Bring people together to create unforgettable memories for generations of fans."
World Cup of Hockey
Collins played a role in the announced revival of the World Cup of Hockey, which will return in September 2016 in Toronto. The field for the revised tournament will include six main countries—Canada, the United States, Sweden, Russia, Finland and the Czech Republic – that would be joined by two all-star teams. One of those squads, Team North America, will be made up of Canadian and American players who have not turned 24 before Oct. 1, 2016. The other will be Team Europe, made up of players from European nations that do not have their own team in the tournament, such as Slovenia, Slovakia, Germany and Switzerland.
Collins, the man behind the successful Winter Classic events that have helped elevate the league's profile in recent years and a key figure in the rebirth of the World Cup of Hockey, agreed that the 2016 tournament is a key element to the league's long-term plans.
"I think this one is unique," Collins told ESPN.com. "It's not supposed to be the Olympics. It's not supposed to be the world championships. It's not the world juniors. This is an event that is co-owned and co-operated by the league and the players, which I think in and of itself says that we have a lot of skin in the game. We each have a lot of skin in the game. And that's important to build out from that." 
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.”
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