NHL Programming VP Charles Coplin on sports programing

Charles Coplin on the NHL and Super Bowl halftime show.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Charles Coplin was vice president of programming for the NFL. Now he’s the vice president of content for the NHL. With two leagues’ experience, Coplin had a wealth of knowledge to share on SXSW Music’s panel, Who’s the Rockstar? Sports as Entertainment and How Music Fits In.


The symbiotic relationship between sports and music:

Charles Coplin: I think there’s multiple opportunities to synthesize the two. Obviously sports is something that still continues to garner big ratings so there’s the opportunity to expose a lot of music on those platforms, either in arena, at an actual event or through a marketing campaign. They compliment each other very well. I think the key is the target. It really depends on the application, engaging fans in the arena and then having some kind of identity with the music. If you were trying to skew to a big event, then you try and figure out what is the performer that really fits that event. Is that performer in cycle? Is there a relationship here where they can be integrated across all the platforms? So I think a lot of the key to being successful here is really understanding what your target or your application is and then building a partnership.


Branding players and the league:

Charles Coplin: When you work for a league, it’s always about the game so even though there’s all this synthesis of entertainment and stuff like that, the players and the game they play always has to be front and center. So when you’re putting this stuff together, as much as you want to track the larger audience, it can never be more important than what’s actually being played on the court of on the field. There’s been issues where that’s happened in the past and it’s backfired. I think when you go out and try to make these decisions, it’s always got to be a win-win for both sides. An artist has to feel like they were made better by their experience and at the same time, the game was always first. I think that’s sort of true with players too. Whether you’re watching Nowitzki or Bernie [Williams], it’s the Mavericks, it’s the Yankees and that’s the brand. So there’s a balancing act but the relationships that work are the ones that get it.


Booking the SuperBowl half time show:

Charles Coplin: We obviously went after the biggest and best we could at the halftime show but I think the challenge with the Super Bowl was for that particular event, the demographics were so wide you knew whoever you were going to select, you were going to piss somebody off. It just was inevitable. So we always tried to get what we thought were the best performers that had the most recognizable song catalog. Music as all of you know has evolved through a lot of social media and through the polarization of the country. It’s just very hard to find that act that just resonates with everybody. I think the first thing we wanted was something that was popular, edgy, appropriate, an artist that would work with us. Then you sort of filled in the gaps. Once you had the headliner, you sort of built it back. Much like we’re going to do with the NHL I think, you find what the platform is. There were certain artists that would say, “We want to play the halftime show” and we were like, “Uh, you’re not going to get to play the halftime show, so we have a Kickoff show that we do at the beginning of the season. It doesn’t do a 42 rating but it does an 8. We’ll promote you all summer and you have an album coming out in September.” That’s how we went about and made those decisions.


If you want the NHL to play the song, find a specific niche where your song works:

Charles Coplin: It always helped if you understand what the league’s trying to do. If you understand the National Hockey League, you understand it’s calendar, it’s culture and it’s events, it just helps because then there’s this feeling of this guy gets what we’re trying to do and I think it works both ways. So I think there’s no shortage of good ideas. The challenge is always executing them. We have people that are involved with this every day so it can be an e-mail, it can be a phone call. There’s no real direct process. All the teams operate differently.


Don’t try to change the classic team songs:

Charles Coplin: That’s the fascinating thing about music right there. Pittsburgh, we did the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh, a couple kickoff shows. So there’s a town that’s fairly conservative and Renegade by Styx is their song. No offense to Styx, how uncool is Renegade in 2011? But those fans, everyone from 80-years-old to 15-year-old kids, they want to hear Renegade. So if something’s going to break through, it’s going to come from a grassroots community type thing. Otherwise they’re going to want to default back to what is their party song. Whether it’s the Blackhawks song or whatever, that’s the way sports fans are when they’re in a large group and you can’t try to produce a disconnected moment. Our jobs are not to try and break music. Our jobs are to entertain our fans. Hopefully we’re edgy and innovative but that’s not our job.


HBO’s 24 7 episode on the Penguins and Capitals:

Charles Coplin: I was involved. I can’t take credit for how good it was. HBO deserves the credit but I’m new to the NHL and I was shocked by how relaxed the NHL was in allowing some of the things to happen with 24-7. It’s a credit to the people at HBO. We chilled about it and the two teams, the Caps and the Penguins were great, HBO was great and I was really impressed by the senior management at NHL that they were willing to not be so filtered.