The NHL finished off announcing the music lineup that’ll accompany the 2017 All-Star Game in Los Angeles on Monday, and it’s an appropriately star-studded group full of some of the biggest names in pop. Nick Jonas, Fifth Harmony and Carly Rae Jepsen joined a slate that already included John Legend and others.
In classic public relations speak, the league brought up how thrilled it was with the artists assembled for the weekend. "We are pleased with the incredible lineup of entertainment that we put together,” Steve Mayer, NHL chief content officer, said.
Now, these names naturally got some mockery, because it’s the NHL and the league gets some mockery pretty much anytime it does anything. That’s what happens when you, say, start an expansion team in Las Vegas (of all places), then have its trademark application get denied.
But as someone who likes hockey, and would also like it to flourish as a business and source of entertainment, I’m not sure there’s much to make fun of here. This is a music lineup that’ll immediately be recognizable to teenagers around the world, and frankly, that’s attention the NHL should be courting.
Just consider the sheer popularity of these artists, as SB Nation’s Travis Hughes pointed out on Twitter. These are stupidly popular people. Jonas and Jepsen each have roughly 10.9 million followers on Twitter. John Legend has 8.7 million, and Fifth Harmony has nearly 3.8 million. There are surely millions more on other platforms.
(For some comparison, the 2016 All-Star Game at Nashville included 21 artists. If you add up the Twitter followers of every single one of them, they combine to just 6.3 million followers. The four artists above have about 34.3 million followers.)
During the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, these people WILL BE TWEETING ABOUT THE NHL. Say what you will about whether 45-year-olds think any of these people are cool, this is something that’ll appeal directly to a younger, more diverse fan base. Considering the homogeneity of the hockey community is almost a running joke at this point, we should embrace actual efforts made by the league to expand beyond that.
The NHL says it wants to broaden its horizons. It wants to pursue a more diverse fan base than the already existing one, which is primarily male and white.
And yes, it’s just some music that’ll accompany the real action, but this is part of how you do that. For a weekend in late January, some of the biggest stars in pop music, with tens of millions of followers on social media, will be talking about hockey and associating their brands with the NHL.
It’s a clear effort to reach a fan other than the one that’s probably going to watch the All-Star Game anyway, and when you’re in Hollywood, that’s precisely what you should be doing. That the NHL can attract artists this popular, even if we’re five years removed from “Call Me Maybe,” should be considered a good thing. The real problem would’ve been if, going from Nashville to LA, the league still showed up with a bunch of names that most young people have never heard of. That’d be the bad look.
The All-Star Game, unlike most events on the hockey calendar, has some ability to transcend the smaller niche and grab some mind share from the rest of the world. It’s one of the few times of the year when the hockey world stretches its legs and admits that, hey, there is some personality under all those sweaters and pads.
So you can make fun of the NHL’s All-Star choices if you want, but in this case, the league’s enthusiasm seems warranted.