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To Tout Stanley Cup Playoffs, NBCU Teams Nick Kroll With News Staffers

Talk about team coverage: To get the word out about NBCUniversal’s coming Stanley Cup Playoffs broadcasts, the company enlisted a bevy of its TV journalists to take part in a fictional newscast about tracking a missing version of the popular sports trophy.

The centerpiece of the campaign is a spot featuring comedian Nick Kroll and a gang of “Cupnappers” stealing the prize. The spot is slated to debut on April Fool’s Day, unsurprisingly, across NBC, NBCSN, NHL Network and other NBCUniversal cable channels. The news team, which consists of David Gregory from “Meet the Press as well as ” Jim Cramer, Carl Quintanilla, and Kayla Tausche from CNBC in a 90- second trailer slated to run on more than 19,000 screens in 48 states – enough so that more than 60% of all moviegoers should get a glimpse if they aren’t lined up at the concession stand.

The playoffs start April 16 and will be seen on NBCSN, CNBC and NBC.

Why so much hoopla for the series? NBCU is in some sense married to the National Hockey League, striking a $2 billion deal in 2011 for exclusive national rights to air pro hockey games for a decade. “This is one of our anchor properties,” said Jon Miller, who is president of programming for NBC Sports Group. “We have a long-term deal with them.”

And yet, NBCUniversal only has so much promotional budget for each of its properties. The company must be clever to get attention, said Bill Bergofin, vice president of marketing for NBC Sports Group, and “try to create these cultural tipping points around our events.”

The campaign’s producers took pains to make certain the newscasters were taking part in a fictional event. “We always are hypersensitive to making it clear it’s something of a farce and not real,” he said.

NBCU has reason to try to stoke interest early for the series: It needs to surpass robust audience growth notched in the recent past. Last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs averaged 1.467 million viewers on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, making it the most-watched post-season since 1997, when an average of 1.52 million viewers watched games spread across ESPN. ESPN2 and Fox. Audience for the playoffs grew 18% compared with the 1.241 milion who watched in 2012.

The overall idea, said Brian Jennings, the NHL’s chief marketing officer, is to mix a traditional TV-based tune-in campaign featuring Kroll with a non-traditional effort that offers “a light-hearted and playful perspective on our holy grail, the Stanley Cup with the intention to create buzz for the Playoffs.”

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