SBJ/September 26 - October 2, 2005/Marketingsponsorship

Corporate sponsor sales remain difficult after NHL lockout

When looking at all of the NHL’s businesses, the league’s corporate sponsorship sales will take the longest to recover from a full year without games. The league is not expected to open its season with any new corporate sponsors and it is looking at new ways to sell corporate affiliations.

“Our conviction is that we’re going to grow, so we’re presenting new ways to make deals, with success-based fees,” said Andrew Judelson, NHL group vice president of corporate marketing. Those “success-based fees” include benchmarks that would let potential sponsors structure a deal with sliding fees based on meeting or exceeding certain measures that could include product sales, television ratings, attendance or traffic on NHL.com.

“We’re telling people that hockey is coming back in a big way, and this is a way for us to put our money where our mouth is,” added Judelson.

With some incumbent sponsors having marketing rights in Canada only, the league is trying to adopt a policy under which sponsors can buy only North American sponsorships.

While the league is unlikely to open its season with any new partners, some current sponsors are activating with the “My NHL” advertising campaign that the league debuted last week, including Anheuser-Busch, Dodge and McDonald’s.

New sponsorship categories being targeted include home security, for which ADT is in talks with the league, financial services, pharmaceuticals, quick-service-restaurant rights in the United States (McDonald’s has Canadian rights), men’s personal care and grooming (Procter & Gamble’s Gillette holds Canadian rights), home improvement (Home Depot holds rights in Canada) and airline. Southwest Airlines was an NHL sponsor, but dropped out due to the lockout.

The largest renewals coming due after the season are Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola.

The league must also rebuild its sponsorship staff, which shrank from more than 20 people to fewer than a handful during the lockout.

“We are new, we are improved,’’ said NHL Enterprises President Ed Horne. “We just have to show people our audience is as convinced of that as we are, and our early ticket sales are a good early indicator there.”

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