Facebook campaign gives fans vote on introduction of NHL team superheroes

The NHL launched a Facebook campaign to promote its “Guardian Project” partnership with famed comic book icon Stan Lee, who along with a team of artists designed a superhero character for all 30 NHL teams. The campaign, which is called “Guardian 30 Match-Up,” has fans vote to determine the order in which each team’s superhero will be unveiled.

Each matchup has fans vote between two characters, beginning today with Pittsburgh’s “Penguin” character facing off against Washington’s “Capital.” The NHL will unveil the winner of the vote on Jan. 1, with successive victors unveiled each day of January.

“We’re most interested in starting a conversation with the next generation of hockey fans, boys ages 9-14,” said Brian Jennings, executive vice president of marketing for the NHL. “We looked at our mascots, and they are good, they are whimsical, but this is a nicer way to graduate young fans into the mainstream.”

The partnership between the league and Lee began in mid-2009 and led to the creation of Guardian Media Entertainment, an entertainment company based in Southern California. GME’s story line revolves around a fictitious teenage boy, Mike Mason, who can bring the Guardian characters to life to fight various enemies. According to Adam Baratta, chief creative officer of GME, the company’s short-term goals include the creation of actual comic books and websites devoted to the Guardian characters, with longer-term goals including video games and possible television shows or films.

“This is not just a merchandising play for the NHL, or a licensing deal,” Baratta said. “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.”

The league announced its partnership on Oct. 7 and featured a small presentation at New York Comic Con the following day. The presentation included a poster that displayed shadowy outlines of the comic characters.

“It created a nice viral discussion online where hockey fans and Stan Lee fans talked about what these [characters] were going to look like,” Baratta said. “We wanted to capitalize on that with the [Facebook campaign] and give each character his own day.”

The monthlong “Match-Up” campaign culminates with the Jan. 30 All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C. The Guardian Project will have a major presence at the event, including a four-minute TV spot that will air during the second intermission, and an in-arena presentation during the game.