LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - When country star Dierks Bentley isn't on the road or in the recording studio, he can usually be found at an ice rink playing hockey with some of his buddies.
So it's no surprise that the singer was excited to learn that his new party-themed single, "Am I the Only One," was played during a recent National Hockey League playoff game.
"I was watching the playoffs and my song came on," Bentley recalls, admitting that he wasn't aware the track had been licensed to the NHL. "My phone blew up with texts from friends that knew I'd get a kick out of it. I'm just thrilled that my song is getting played."
Bentley, who plays in a recreational ice hockey league in Nashville, has reason to be excited, as his new partnership with the NHL spans well beyond exposure during the playoffs.
"Am I the Only One," which moves 16 to 14 this week on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, was featured in May in TV tune-in spots during the NHL conference finals on networks like NBC, CBC and the NHL Network. They also ran on NHL.com and team web sites.
Bentley is also releasing a second music video to CMT and other platforms for "Am I the Only One," which features highlights from the 2010-11 NHL season, footage from his recent concert tour and home videos of him playing hockey.
Collaborating with musical artists isn't new for the NHL. The Goo Goo Dolls performed at last year's NHL Awards show, while the Jonas Brothers, Garth Brooks and Usher have performed at events scheduled around the NHL All-Star Game. The league also licensed Eminem's "Not Afraid" for use during telecasts of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.
But the NHL's partnership with Bentley is the first such artist campaign under the leadership of Charles Coplin, a former National Football League VP of programing who joined the NHL in September as executive VP of content.
Coplin reports to another former NFL executive, NHL COO John Collins, who had previously served as president/CEO of the Cleveland Browns and senior VP of marketing and sales at the
Taking a page from the NFL's playbook, Collins and Coplin have been keen on expanding the NHL's entertainment brand through the launch of special events and artist partnerships.
In his new role, Coplin plans to leverage relationships he built as booker of the Super Bowl halftime show and use them to create unique musical opportunities for the NHL's lengthy October-June season.
"The NFL has those defined pieces of real estate, like the kickoff show and the Super Bowl show," Coplin says. "Hockey has a different rhythm; it's an everyday sport plays a couple months longer."
Collins has overseen the creation of new events during the NHL season, including the opening-day NHL Face-Off entertainment festival; the New Year's Day Winter Classic, which features a regular-season game played outdoors; and the annual NHL Awards show, which will be held June 22 at the Pearl Concert Theater in Las Vegas.
"We have such a different variety of events with such different themes and geography that it allows us to be more targeted in what we're going after," Coplin says.
Booking musical talent for a massive event like the Super Bowl halftime show, Coplin says, can be somewhat constricting, in that it needs to be an act with wide, mainstream appeal.
But with the NHL, "we have a targeted demographic and we can take some edgier acts," he says. The league says it has about 53 million fans in North America, of which it estimates 60 percent are between the ages of 18 and 49.
Coplin says he's eager to expand the NHL's relationship with more musical artists.
"We can do some things that are more aggressive or a little bit more risky," he says, "because of the nature of the sport and the demographic."
Thanks to his likable, boy-next-door image, Bentley probably wouldn't be considered an edgy or risky artist in most quarters. But Capitol Nashville senior VP of marketing Cindy Mabe says his passion for hockey makes him a natural partner for the NHL.
Mabe also says the campaign will help set up Bentley's as-yet-untitled sixth studio album, which is tentatively scheduled for release in October on Capitol Records Nashville. "Am I the Only One" is the album's first single.
"For us, it's nothing but a commercial that Dierks is coming," she says. "Dierks had the automatic walk-in because he speaks the language of hockey. He loves hockey, appreciates it and plays it."
(Editing by Chris Michaud)