SBJ/June 25 - July 1, 2001/Special Report

Sponsor targets: Replace one, re-sign others

NHL Enterprises enters the league's off-season looking to replace one corporate partner while negotiating renewals with several others.

"The strategy we've always had is fewer, broader, bigger relationships," said Andrew Judelson, vice president of corporate marketing for NHL Enterprises, the league's sponsorship and marketing arm.

League marketing officials said they hope to keep the number of NHL corporate partners around 20, as it's been the last several years.

As anticipated, the NHL's long-standing association with IBM Corp. ends this summer. That relationship had centered on the league's Web site when it was a jointly owned and operated venture known as NHL ICE. That changed when the NHL initiated a buyout from IBM and seized control of the site about two years ago.

While IBM fulfilled its obligations as a marketing partner, Judelson said, both sides agreed six months ago that it no longer fit either party's business strategy to continue since the Web site is now solely operated by the league.

A league official said the NHL hopes to fill the computer hardware and software category being vacated by IBM this summer, but declined to comment on companies being targeted.

The NHL has signed a four-year renewal with the Coca-Cola Co. Judelson said he is confident the league will sign longtime sponsor Dodge to a new deal prior to next season as well.

The outlook is a bit murkier for Nortel Networks, which is in the midst of a CEO search and is dealing with a 75 percent drop in its stock price since last summer.

"We need to have people that are investing and promoting the game," said NHL Enterprises President Ed Horne, "and we're not sure yet whether they're going to have the ability to do that. We're going to have to feel that one out."

Nortel officials were unavailable for comment.

League officials also cite preparations for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City as a priority for this summer. The NHL views the Games as a chance to concentrate marketing efforts on hockey's Big Six nations — Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and the United States — each of which will feature Olympic teams composed almost entirely of NHL players. Horne said a league marketing campaign spotlighting the NHL's Olympians will launch in the fall.

Adam Raider is a writer living in New York.

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