October 10, 2010.
CBC posts an article about Stan Lee working on a project to create 30 super heroes for the NHL – with plans to reach a new male audience aged 9 to 14; and to cash in on the (at the time) fast growing Comic Book movie hype.
People were interested and whilst many were skeptical about the project working; enough people believed that this could be an exciting new addition to their favorite teams marketing portfolio.
Appearing on an ESPN Podcast just a few days later; Stan Lee expressed his interest, and confirmed to many Stan Lee fans out there that this would be among his finest creations.
December, a Facebook app and microsite launch offering fans to vote for what team should have their character unveiled first.
Adam Barratta, Chief Creative officer of GME (the team behind this project) quoted to Sports business journal: ““It’s a creative partnership between two brands whose goal is to expand the exposure of hockey. We’re expecting to have a great presence for many years to come.”
A lot of effort and money were to be put into this campaign as once the voting began it was set to conclude with a spectacular finale at the Carolina All Star Game, January 30; featuring an in arena show featuring visual effects not seen elsewhere. All very promising.
The Facebook campaign was a success from the outside; with lots of voting, competition and entertainment to the fans who took part. Many people were pleased with their teams character designs – others were not so happy. Traditional, older fans tended to dismiss this project and some felt that it would interfere too much with hockey. Others were even more cynical, predicting an early demise as the project was just too “far out” for a sports league.
The All Star game came, and it did not fail to dissapoint in the 2nd intermission when the arena was alight with a visual spectacle almost equivalent to what the Superbowl offers – and announced at the same time was an exciting line of merchandise and a graphic novel all themed around the Guardian Project.
Comic fans were excited as they now had a way to combine their interest in hockey with their passion for comics – fans were promised different stories ensuring that each team got the limelight. People who were skeptical in the past, having seen the introduction started to believe this could be for real now and some started to embrace the product a bit more. Smaller pockets of fans however remained critical and a few pointed out that a cast of 30 will be hard to maintain without undermining others: did they have a point?
Through Feburary and even into early March, people were still excited. The merchandise sold and the flashy Guardian 30 website promised more information on each character; again tied heavily towards a Facebook promotion.
Characters started to appear. Back stories for the characters, and the villains started to appear -Forums were promised, and games. People were excited. And then suddenly; it stopped.
No new Guardians were revealed, No new merchandise became available, Supplies for the comic books halted and the website froze – suspended indefinitely in a sea of 1′s and 0′s.
Nothing happened until June. In June, to somewhat little fanfare the NHL announced a partnership on the project with NBC Universal to coincide with the new league hookup. NBC stated to the press that they were excited in this project and will be promoting it alongside their other NHL products.
This gave some hope to people, however many felt that after 6 months of not that much; it was too late.
So here we are in 2013. Its now May, and almost 2 years since this deal with the NBC took place.
The NHL store lists just 4 Guardian project items for sale – 1 tshirt, and 3 posters. A far cry from the plans for a mass amount of exciting merchandise for all teams.
The website is frozen in the same state that it was in March 2011. No new characters and exactly the same content. The forums and games are still coming soon and interestingly all the Terms and Conditions make no reference to the NBC Universal partnership. The registration system appears to still work however there is little point to doing so.
The Facebook App no longer works and the page has just 21,000 likes (compared to the 2 million and counting for the league), and the last activity from the group itself was in June 2011. It has not been updated to fit with the new design of Facebook meaning it is likely not to have been visited by an Admin or worker for over a year.
So, what of the people behind the project?
According to LinkedIn, just 3 members list Guardian Media Entertainment as their job. Adam Baratta — Chief Creative Officer, Aldo LaPietra — Co-Founder / EVP Production and Business Development, Tony Chargin — Co-Founder / EVP Creative Affairs.
The office, a shared space building in Santa Monica.
It is possible that there is a small amount of work taking place, however with anything like this you would expect more people to be visibly working on such a project and given the noise made when launching this product: you would expect more than a half functional micro site and outdated social media.
So, why did this happen?
Firstly I think it is worth looking at the demographics of hockey fans. SportsBusiness daily shows that 40% of NHL fans are aged 50 and over. This contrasts to the 29% aged between 18-34 and the 29% for 34-49. This core group of fans has more than likely a lower interest than the younger fans in such a project and whilst the product was aimed clearly below them; their sizable number could easily make the product fail. It is worth also noting that the 50+ bracket is less likely to be involved with social media or online micro sites and therefore these products could be lost on them also.
Secondly, I think the too many cooks spoil the broth effect could have come into play here. 30 characters plus villains is no small fete, and for anyone working behind the scenes on this it involves an awful lot of work. Therefore it is worth asking did the project not scale well, and if it didn’t; why didn’t they cut the numbers?
Perhaps an answer to that was that it would be difficult to A. Explain this to fans and B. There would need to be work involved working out what characters had less love.
Thirdly, the its a sports league. This is possibly the most crucial point. The NHL is a hockey league. Its product is a sport – not a bunch of cartoon misfits. Was the product too much of an akward fit and do hardcore comic fans (the big spenders) really have an interest in hockey?
Forthly, was it too late? The comic book film hype began in 2008 or so and during its time some big name films existed. However it became undeniable that by 2010 and 11 the popularity of comic films was not at the height it once was. Big blockbusters like Iron Man and The Dark Knight gave way to failures such as The Green Hornet – granted the films still sold well at cinemas, were great to watch and were memorable; but the crowds seen in the past were nowhere near as big post 2010.
These factors I feel could have lead to the demise.
Whilst I feel it is possible that there could be a revival in this product in the future; the lack of activity now tells the story of a product that came, failed and went out with a whimper; rather than a bang.
The Guardian Project is in all likelihood dead.
I’m KevKev and this is PowerPlayGoal.com