SBD/February 8, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Sponsors Are Lining Up For The NHL's Feb. 20 Heritage Classic In Calgary

The Heritage Classic is less than two weeks away, and the NHL is “already seeing the benefits” of having the Flames and Canadiens play outside at McMahon Stadium on Feb. 20, according to Chris Johnston of the CP. Sponsors have “lined up and embraced the event to a degree not even seen for the Winter Classic outdoor game on New Year's Day -- widely considered the signature date on the NHL calendar.” NHL COO John Collins said this year's Capitals-Penguins Winter Classic at Heinz Field was "by far the biggest event business that we've had to date," and he added, "We've got more sponsorship dollars against this game than we actually did even (at the Winter Classic) in Pittsburgh, which is amazing to me.” Tim Hortons signed on as title sponsor of the Heritage Classic -- the company's “first ever partnership with the league -- and will be joined by other sponsors including Canadian Tire, Scotiabank, BlackBerry and Budweiser.” The NHL “hasn't brought an outdoor game to Canada since the very first one was held at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium in November 2003.” The league has “no official plans for future outdoor games.” But Collins acknowledged that Tim Hortons' contract to sponsor the Heritage Classic “is for ‘multiple years’ and virtually every team has expressed interest in the event.” Johnston wrote, “When you couple that with the sponsorship success in Calgary, it's reasonable to expect another Canadian outdoor game sooner than later” (CP, 2/4).

A NORTH AMERICAN TRADITION? ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun noted the gate revenue for the Heritage Classic “won't be as much" as it was for the Winter Classic "because there aren't as many seats” in McMahon Stadium. But the “corporate base has really jumped on board.” Collins: "To really make the model work in these less than NFL or big-time baseball stadiums, sponsorships needs to really carry the day. I think the size of the sponsorship market and also the activation by the sponsors is going to be even bigger than the Winter Classic." LeBrun wrote it was a "no-brainer for the NHL to extend itself with two outdoor games,” but it remains to be seen “whether or not having two games will dilute the product.” Collins said, "I always resist the idea that the Winter Classic is a U.S.-only event, similarly now I'm going to resist the fact that the Heritage is just a Canadian event" (ESPN.com, 2/5).
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