The conglom has taken a minority equity stake in the property that is being developed as a TV series, films, comicbooks, games, licensed merchandise and theme park attractions.
So far, pact is purely a promotional deal, with NBCU set to push “Guardian” material across its TV channels and other media outlets. NBCU is not currently developing any of the content, being overseen by Lee and producing partner Gill Champion through their POW! shingle. Any TV shows or films can still be shopped around to other networks and studios.
NBCU was a natural partner for the venture because it is the TV home of the NHL. In April, NBC Sports brokered a 10-year deal with the NHL to air its games on NBC and cabler Versus through the 2020-21 season.
The NHL and its member clubs have already been backing the characters with marketing and promos in local markets, pushing the website and selling apparel and other merchandise featuring the animated athletes. Comicbooks and a novel are forthcoming, as is a redesign of the property’s official website to offer up social and mobile gaming options in the first quarter of 2012.
While the Guardians’ wranglers are eyeing various spinoffs to appeal to different age groups, the NHL sees the comicbook characters as a way to reach out to younger audiences and turn them into new hockey fans.
“The ‘Guardian Project’ is a great way for us to engage with casual fans and a broader audience,” said Brian Jennings, NHL executive VP of marketing. “We’re starting a conversation with the next generation of NHL fans and NBCUniversal’s strength as a global media company, its commitment to hockey and its proven track record of leveraging sports and entertainment will elevate ‘The Guardian Project’ within the NHL fan base and beyond.”
“The Guardian Project” is being produced through Guardian Media Entertainment, which Lee’s SLG Entertainment and the NHL formed together. In January, the first characters started rolling out, with all 30 introduced during the 2011 NHL All-Star Game.
“Since the inception of GME, our goal has been to partner with a major media company that has broadly distributed consumer platforms to exponentially increase the awareness and scope of ‘The Guardian Project,’ ” said Mark Terry, GME’s chief operating officer. “It was important for us to find a partner that would really help us establish a brand in the marketplace.”
Howard Baldwin, producer of biopic “Ray,” and a former part owner of NHL franchises the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Hartford Whalers, brokered the deal with NBCU.