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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Beyond the Puck: The Arizona Coyotes’ Mission To Bring Personality To Hockey

Nash and Bissonnette during a Pillow Talk segment (Photo via @NHL)

Nash and Bissonnette during a Pillow Talk segment (Photo via @NHL)

The last thing you would expect to find on a sports team’s social media page is a video of two grown men in pajamas lying on adjacent hotel beds. Yet, if you scroll through the Arizona Coyotes’ feed, there’s a good chance that’s what you’ll see.

The men on the screen, Paul Bissonnette, a former NHL fourth-liner whose social media personality caught the attention of hockey fans around the world, and Tyson Nash, a retired NHL player who spent time with the St. Louis Blues and Coyotes, represent how the Coyotes are embracing the digital media era by utilizing former players to generate authentic engagement with fans.

This particular series, called Pillow Talk with Biz & Nasher, features the former NHL-players, now Coyotes broadcasters, as they reminisce with thick Canadian accents on their playing days, telling stories about their experiences on the road and giving fans a unique look at life as a professional hockey player.

Since launching earlier this year, the series has taken off.

“Ten minutes after we released the first episode people were going crazy. People were loving it. It was on NHL Network. It literally just exploded because that’s what people want to hear,” says Nash.

Storytelling and sports go hand in hand, but for years, many of the most memorable moments have been shroud behind a corporate cloud. Players were expected to answer questions with canned responses and most of their personalities were lost behind a mask.

Now, that’s changing.

“[Fans] want to listen to stories, they want to play hockey, they want to listen to more stories and drink a few beers,” Nash explains about his interactions with the hockey community since his career has wrapped up.

The series has not only brought Bissonnette and Nash closer to the fans, but closer to one another.

“Tyson played not only a similar style in the NHL, but we have similar personalities. We also share the same birthday. We’re pretty much identical and we’ve gotten to become pretty good friends,” says Bissonnette.

Nash agrees.

“I’m an older version of Paul in a lot of ways,” he says.

Nash and Bissonnette come from a different generation. Ten years apart to the day – Bissonnette played his first NHL game the year after Nash retired from the sport.

As a result of the age gap, they played in different eras. Nash in the one where personalities were hidden in the locker room and cameras were banned from benches, while Bissonnette played in a time where personality carried almost as much weight as talent.

Social media, which started to emerge as Nash hung up his skates, changed things and he stresses the importance for young players to embrace the new digital-driven world.

“You have to embrace what’s happening. I’m cut from the old school cloth where cameras were forbidden and getting up and being yourself, that was all kind of forbidden,” he reflects. “My advice to the young hockey guys is don’t do that. We’re all great people we’ve all got great personalities and that’s what the people want to see. They don’t want you up there saying the same old garbage that guys have been saying for years.”

Paul never did that.

His personality, seen best through his Twitter handle @BizNasty2point0, and off-ice branding, set him up for success in his post-playing career. This caught the attention of the Phoenix Coyotes, who he played with for the majority of his career. Rich Nairn, the Coyotes EVP of Communications and Broadcasting tried to hire Bissonnette the last three years, but he wasn’t ready to hang up his skates, instead opting to play in the AHL. It wasn’t until he tore both ACLs that he realized retirement was inevitable and gave Nairn a call.

Bissonnette representing the Coyotes’ media department at the NHL All-Star Game (Photo via @BizNasty2point0

Now, along with serving as the Coyotes’ Radio Color Analyst and appearing as a regular guest on FOX Sports Arizona’s pre and post-game Coyotes broadcasts, he is the team’s first-ever official team ambassador.

“In the past, we have always used our team broadcasters as community ambassadors but have never used the official title until we hired Paul Bissonnette,” says Nairn. “It made sense to expand [Bissonnette’s] role with the team and not just limit it to broadcasting and producing website and social media videos.”

Not even a full year into his new role, Bissonnette feels like he’s in the right place.

“It’s been a great fit. They’ve definitely opened up their horizon. Most hockey teams are low key and don’t really come outside their box. It’s a pretty traditional sport,” he explains, referring to the corporate ways that teams have generally operated with social and traditional media.

The Coyotes, though, have tried something different.

In addition to Pillow Talk, the Coyotes have launched two other series starring Bissonnette: Road Trippin’ with Biz and The Bachelor Report.

In Road Trippin’ with Biz, Bissonnette interviews a current or former player on Coyotes road trips, showcasing their personalities in a way that isn’t often seen by fans.

The Bachelor Report, which follows four players as they watch the show’s season, has allowed the team an opportunity to tap into a key cultural moment. It has also allowed the players the chance to step in front of the camera in a different way, as they share their reactions to each episode.

“There’s so much personality in the locker rooms, but guys have been told and molded not to let it out because it puts focus on themselves rather than the teams. But I don’t see that as a negative thing, because all these guys have personalities and I think hockey fans deserve to start seeing it,” says Bissonnette.

The response to this particular series has been remarkable and attracted new attention to the Coyotes’ social pages.

“For the first time this season, ‘The Bachelor Report’ with Paul brought in a top audience of women 25-34 on our Facebook page. Our typical top audience for Facebook videos is men 25-34 so it’s been great to create compelling and entertaining content that our female fans enjoy,” says Nairn.

Working within a team’s structure, there are certain limits that need to be enforced in order to share appropriate content that reflects a team’s brand. As a result, Bissonnette, who has a notoriously loud personality, has delved into his own creative endeavors, in addition to the ones with the Coyotes, since ending his playing days.

Outside of his media role and job as a team ambassador, Paul recently shot, produced, and edited Biznasty Does BC, a documentary premiering soon with content that’s a little more unfiltered than what’s allowed with the Coyotes.

His post-playing success didn’t happen randomly, it’s something he’s been intentionally working towards for years, rarely saying no when a creative opportunity arose.

“I hate saying no, it’s something I need to get better at. Maybe a little focus came off hockey. People ask if I regret that and I say no because that was a small part of my life and sacrificing that helped me grow what I have now,” he says.

As for what’s next personally and with the team, Bissonnette has a lot of ideas in mind.

“Overall, I consider myself an entertainer because I want people, and more so hockey fans, to be entertained. I believe hockey fans have been deprived of personalities. My goal is to keep pushing that envelope and provide them with something they’ve been deprived of for a long time.”

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