A couple weeks after a teaser featuring various NHL players and TNT analysts talking about fictional character “Gordo St. John,” WBD Sports revealed a full video there with the David Harbour-played character as part of their Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage Tuesday. Overall, this campaign involves both an eight-minute full video and several shorter promo ad spots, with all of them emphasizing TNT’s NHL coverage and that the network will be the home of the Stanley Cup Final this year. WBD Sports associate creative director Tyler Lassiter spoke to AA about the campaign this week, and said the idea came from thinking about to kick their coverage up.
“This was an idea that was conceived about a year ago. We were starting to think about ideas, we’ve got the Stanley Cup Final, and we want to make a big push because it’s the Cup Final, we want to do something sort of unique and memorable and different and make people aware that we’ve got it. And since we’d only had the NHL for a year, really, when I first got this idea we hadn’t even had it for a full year yet, so I was thinking about ‘Okay, what if we needed to take our coverage up a notch? We’ve got the Cup Final, we’ve got to take it up a notch. And what if there was someone who could do this?'”
“And I’d read an article about the Golden Knights, what they do at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas, and in the short time that the Golden Knights have been in the league, fans, players, all agreed that that in-arena experience is very different, it’s a very cool in-arena experience to have. So I just kind of thought ‘What if the guy who did that came in and helped us?’ That was kind of the initial thought.”
“And then it was like ‘Okay, well, what if that was not the actual guy, but this fictional character, who’s a hockey hype consultant? What if there’s this character who comes in and is brought in to help take our coverage up a notch, because we’ve got the Stanley Cup Final and we want to make a huge push for it?’ And then it sort of evolved from there in terms of how we were going to incorporate the players, give the character a backstory, and do all that.”
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Gordo St. John is here, and he's ready to shake things up ? pic.twitter.com/Jy7xvyqYKV
— NHLonTNT (@NHL_On_TNT) April 18, 2023
Lassiter said Harbour was under consideration for this early on, with his existing hockey fandom and his connection to pop culture and humor strong elements in his favor.
“David was on the short list of people that we wanted. We started having talks with his team, negotiations, a couple of months prior to the shoot. He was someone who I’d seen photos of at Rangers’ games, I knew he was a hockey fan, and he just kind of had…we try to straddle that line between pop culture and sports, and with Stranger Things, and his personality, and I just think he’s a great actor in general, we just thought he’s the type of guy who could deliver on this.”
“He’s got great comedic timing, he’s fun, he’s funny, he’s different, he’s maybe not expected in this role, and he looks like…a lot of the guys when I was talking to them, our talent, players and so on, were like ‘Yeah, he looks like he could have grown up playing hockey. He looks like a guy who would be in that world.’ So it was a few months ago that we started discussions with him, and he very quickly loved the idea and wanted to be a part of it.”
One of the things that stood out in the lead-up to the full video launch was the teaser WBD Sports put together featuring a wide range of players talking about “St. John.” Lassiter said that came from strong league-provided access to players, and the players were rapidly on board with this particular idea.
“It was actually great. One thing with the NHL in our short time with them so far, the access that they give us is pretty fantastic. They’re great partners. Obviously they want to elevate the players and show that the league has some personality, but they’re giving us this sort of unparalleled access, and we tried to come up with a way that we could leverage that. And we were giving the backstory to Gordo, ‘Some people hate him, some people love him, but everyone in hockey knows him.'”
“And it was a very quick elevator pitch. When we get these players at our media tour, we don’t have a ton of time with them, and we’re also trying to do social elements, we’re trying to do specialty shoots, so, it had to be a very quick elevator pitch. I would just lay it out very quickly, ‘We’ve got the Stanley Cup Final this year, we’re trying to take it up a notch, there’s a fictional character named Gordo St. John, he’s kind of a hockey hype consultant, and everybody in hockey knows him, everybody’s got a story.’ And usually when I would tell them the line, they thought it was pretty funny.”
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— NHLonTNT (@NHL_On_TNT) April 5, 2023
Lassiter said players ‘ uptake on this was fast, and it helped that the creative team customized their lines to fit them.
“They all got it immediately, they all chuckled at the idea…well, there were some guys, who even though I said it’s fictional, maybe I didn’t clarify, who were like ‘Is Gordo real? Who’s Gordo?'” he said. “But every one of them, I have to say, we tried to give them lines that fit their personality, like Brady Tkachuk being ‘Next time I see Gordo, it’s on sight.’ There were things like that, even lines that didn’t make the cut, like Auston Matthews being ‘Yeah, Gordo’s the one who told me to grow the mustache.’ And they got it and played along.”
He said one nice reaction to this campaign has been the reception for the players’ acting performances.
“I saw a lot of the comments when the teaser ran, like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know half the NHL could act.’ They all really kind of embraced it. They thought it was funny.”
Lassiter said even ahead of the launch, the players’ comments got strong reception from the NHL on TNT panel.
“I would also show it to our talent, like, ‘Is this cool? What do you guys think of this?’ And they were like ‘Aw, man, this is great. These guys all sound believable, you kind of buy what they’re selling.'”
One particularly interesting bit of talent feedback came from TNT analyst and legendary player Wayne Gretzky, who plays a couple of critical roles in the various St. John spots and sells his lines well. Lassiter said Gretzky loved the concept.
“I had a teaser that hadn’t run yet, and I showed it to Wayne. We’re doing two things; this was really a spot that was about our studio show, where we want to amplify that. We also have topicals running for the games, where it’s Gretzky talking about the teams and stuff. So we’re doing a little bit of both. But I went to Wayne, and I showed him this, and he was laughing out loud, he was like ‘This is amazing, this is so fun, people are going to love this, this is great.’ So I was like ‘I’ve got a handful of lines I want you to say,’ and he loved it.”
Lassiter said Gretzky was up for recording even absurd lines here.
“In the teaser, he’s like ‘I told the guys we need to bring in Gordo, there’s nobody better,’ and in the longform, he’s like ‘There really would be no Wayne Gretzky without Gordo St. John.’ It’s an absolutely absurd line, Gordo’s probably 20 years younger than him, but Wayne just thought it was hilarious and probably kind of ridiculous. And he was laughing out loud watching the teaser, he was like ‘Oh yeah, absolutely.’ He wanted to do it, and wanted to be a part of it.”
He said WBD received good feedback from the current players, too, with many of those players enjoying doing something different from what they’ve often done for hockey commercials.
“It was great, and the players really embraced it and had fun with it. And a lot of them said they’re so used to coming in and it just being like ‘All right, stand here, look at the camera this way, come in, do a stop, spray the camera.’ This was something that I think was just so different for them that they were all laughing about ‘Oh, I didn’t know I was going to have to act today.’ So they had fun with it, so it really wasn’t hard. And I was shocked how well they all delivered on it.”
Lassiter added that many of the players’ comments were shot before Harbour signed on, and were helpful in getting him on board.
“To try and get David to do it, we sent a clip of all these players talking about it, the greatest NHL players in the world already talking about the guy you’re going to play.”
Lassiter said the wider internet reaction to the teaser, and the speculation it launched on the identity of “St. John,” was interesting to see.
“Seeing everything, I was a little surprised, pleasantly surprised, at how invested people seemed to be in who Gordo was. The speculation, people even asked AI who Gordo was, and ChatGPT came back with ‘Paul Bissonnette’s character for the playoffs.’ It was amusing to me, the guesses. There were some that I thought were pretty funny, like ‘I hope it’s not Will Arnett in a dumb mustache.’ That was a little shocking. And the number of views, seeing the teaser viewed over a million and a half times, that was fun, that was cool.”
He said the overall feedback to the campaign since its full release has been solid, especially on Instagram.
“Since it’s been released, I think it depends on where you look; some people are going to love it, some people aren’t, but I think for the most part, if you go on Instagram, it’s pretty universally beloved, and Twitter’s a mixed bag. But I think in general, people think it’s different, people think it’s fun.”
There was one bit of public speculation on St. John Lassiter found unusual, suggestions that they should have brought in Jared Keeso in character as Shoresy from Letterkenny and Shoresy. Lassiter said he’s a big fan of Keeso and Shorsey, but that wasn’t the right fit for an approach like this given how established the character is elsewhere.
“I saw some people saying ‘Oh, you should have got Shoresy to do it.’ I love that show. But I’m not going to get Jared Keeso to do it. That’s its own thing.”
Lassiter said doing something on this scale was a gamble, but he thinks it’s worked out.
“I think one thing that we wanted to do was take a big swing, and tell a big story. And if nothing else, people will know where the Cup Final is. It’s on TNT. And we seem to be getting a lot of traction in that respect. But when I showed it to David, and some of our guys, and some of the people who are in it, like the Spittin’ Chiclets guys, some of the people behind the scenes, everyone loved it and thought it was fun. And I couldn’t be happier with how the finished piece turned out, the longform and the promos. And there are two more promos that we’re going to be doing.”
He’s particularly happy that it’s spread beyond the typical hockey audience.
“One thing that I do think that it did, and that I like, is that I noticed a lot of people who aren’t maybe your typical hockey fans coming out. And that’s something that we’re trying to do, in terms of growing the game. If you do something that’s so inside hockey and insider hockey, that’s the only audience you’re going to get. To me, this is going to reach more people, by virtue of the fact that we got a guy like David and it’s a fun spot. And we’re the type of broadcast where we can do this to start the show, and then in the middle, we’ve got ‘At Home With 99’ [segments] with Wayne Gretzky telling stories. So I like that we can do both. And hopefully people think the Gordo spot is fun and different; that’s what we were going for.”
All in all, Lassiter’s pleased with how the project turned out, and thinks it was worth the effort.
“This was a long time coming. It was fun to be a part of. There were a lot of people that contributed to it. I’m just happy that we got to do it, and hopefully people enjoy it.”
The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with four separate Game 3s on WBD Sports’ networks Friday night: Carolina Hurricanes-New York Islanders on TBS at 7 p.m. ET, Boston Bruins-Florida Panthers on TNT at 7:30 p.m. ET, Dallas Stars-Minnesota Wild on TBS at 9:30 p.m. ET, and Edmonton Oilers-Los Angeles Kings on TNT at 10 p.m. ET. All of those series are tied at one game apiece.
[Photo from WBD Sports]