SBJ/January 14 - 20, 2002/This Weeks Issue

NHL re-signs A-B, MasterCard

The NHL has signed Anheuser-Busch Cos. and MasterCard International, two of its largest corporate partners, to new multiyear, multimillion-dollar sponsorships.

Sources said NHL fees increase in each of the seven-figure-a-year deals, including media commitments and rights fees.

Anheuser-Busch, an NHL sponsor since 1994, has committed to a four-year renewal under which it will continue to leverage its Bud Light brand.

MasterCard has agreed in principle to a five-year extension of its NHL rights.

While any deal is noteworthy in the depressed sponsorship environment, both pacts are also important because they extend beyond the league's collective- bargaining agreement, which expires in 2004. (Prior renewals from Coke and MBNA also extend beyond the current labor agreement.)

Both new deals include language offering relief should there be games lost because of a labor stoppage. Neither NHL sponsorship execs nor MasterCard would comment. MasterCard's five-year term begins and ends the same as credit-card issuer MBNA's NHL pact.

"It is a very difficult sponsorship market, so we can only be heartened by people making longer commitments to the league and increasing their commitments, as far as resources they'll allocate to support the NHL," said NHL Enterprises President Ed Horne. The NBA and the NFL are now facing a plethora of sponsorship renewals.

Both new pacts include media commitments on the NHL's cable and broadcast rights holders and print ads in the league's special section in USA Today. Both call for some increased commitments to online ad spending.

Anheuser-Busch adds nonexclusive global rights (except for Canada) to its NHL pact, suggesting that it may leverage the NHL in hockey-crazed Northern Europe.

While MasterCard once leveraged the NHL extensively in the United States, it now holds and directs its NHL sponsorship from Canada. NHL rights are integral for MasterCard north of the border, not only because of hockey's popularity there. In Canada, banks must chose between issuing MasterCard and Visa, while in the United States, they are free to issue either or both payment-card brands.

MasterCard still pays for rights for Canada and the United States and, privately, some U.S. MasterCard marketers are hopeful of more actively leveraging of the property in this country before the new deal expires.

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