SBD/February 22, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

MillerCoors Signs With NHL In League's Largest Sponsorship Deal Ever

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MillerCoors replaces A-B, which held U.S. NHL rights since ‘94
The NHL has signed MillerCoors in the U.S. and Molson Coors in Canada as its newest corporate sponsor in a mammoth seven-year deal across North America that is the league’s most financially lucrative sponsorship ever. With the deal, it replaces Anheuser-Busch, which held U.S. NHL league sponsorship rights since ‘94, and A-B-owned Labatt, the NHL's Canadian beer sponsor since ‘98. MillerCoors has committed to spending $375M over the next seven years through an estimated $100M in rights fees, $100M in activation expenditures, another $100M in media buys with league rights holders and various club spending obligations. The deal is effective July 1. "Hockey is a sport that's extremely strong with our customers in the Northeast and Midwest and overall we see this as a bet on the future of the NHL," said MillerCoors CMO Andy England. "NHL fans are the biggest consumers of beer among fans of any major league sport, so it's just a nice match for us." England added that Molson Canadian's "heritage" positioning and Coors Light's message of "Cold Refreshment" are also nice creative matches for the NHL. MillerCoors’ Molson Canadian will be the lead Canadian brand under the deal, while Molson and Coors Light will leverage the NHL in the U.S. Molson has sponsorships with all six Canadian NHL teams, including an exclusive deal with the Canadiens. In the U.S., Coors Light has deals with the Avalanche, Coyotes, Panthers, Stars and Thrashers. Miller Lite sponsors the Blue Jackets, Ducks, Penguins, Red Wings and Sabres.

LATEST JOSTLING AMONG BREWERS: The NHL/MillerCoors deal continues a turbulent past 10 months between brewers and major sports properties. Last May, A-B signed a deal allowing it to supplant Coors as the NFL's official beer, effective April 1, 2011, for rights that Coors held since ‘02. In the fall, Budweiser and MLB got into some nasty litigation over their renewal, with the two sides eventually settling and renewing their 31-year-old sponsorship. After losing NFL rights to A-B, MillerCoors was hoping to land MLB rights until the disputing A-B/MLB parties settled. While sources said MillerCoors was seeking a national sports sponsorship since losing NFL rights, England said, "We examine each deal on its own merit." However, after the exclusive negotiating periods for both Labatt and A-B expired with the NHL, league COO John Collins said it took the league less than a week to hammer out a new North American agreement with MillerCoors after a meeting in Chicago just after the Jan. 30 NHL All-Star Game. With the NHL seeking a new TV deal, a major new beer contract is a nice start. "You have to admire what Coors did with its NFL rights as far as activation," said Collins. "Filling an important category like this is a nice part of any TV deal and we are as well positioned as a sport and a business as we ever have been." Earlier this season, the NHL added Discover as a corporate sponsor, renewed U.S. rights deals with Bridgestone and McDonald's, and finalized new Canadian deals with Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons.

A-B HAD REDUCED NATIONAL ACTIVATION: A-B still retains a number of NHL team deals, and over the years did some memorable NHL-themed ads, including the "Bubble Hockey" series. However, in recent years, A-B's national activation of league rights shrunk. "A-B has been a good partner for the NHL, but over time, their hockey focus seems to have moved to almost exclusively local versus any meaningful advertising and promotion commitments on the league level," said Ed Horne, whose 15 years with the league included seven as NHL Enterprises President. Horne is now COO of Madison Avenue Sports & Entertainment. "If the new deal ensures that club beer deals remain intact and the NHL now has a partner that will help capitalize on national inventory and assets, that would be a great win for the league and their broadcast partners.” Not coincidentally, Labatt just announced its first NHL team sponsorships this week with the Canucks and Flames. Both deals are effective after this season.
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