SBJ/March 5 - 11, 2007/This Weeks News

NHLPA takes leaguewide tour

During his 11 years with the NHL Players’ Association, Ken Kim can’t recall a time when the union visited all 30 NHL teams to meet with club executives. But that has begun to change over the last three months.

Ken Kim

Kim, the union’s senior director of business, and Devin Smith, its director of club marketing, have traveled to 22 of the 30 NHL clubs to discuss ways teams can get players more involved local promotions and marketing programs. They’ll meet with the final eight teams over the next few weeks.

“Just having these meetings is coming a long way for us,” Kim said.

The meetings are unprecedented in the sports industry, where relationships between unions and leagues are often contentious. To date, none of the other major sports unions have traveled to each team during the course of a year to discuss marketing players.

The NHLPA initiated its round of meetings following the local group licensing agreement it reached with the NHL last November. The agreement allows team sponsors to use player images in their promotions without having to negotiate with the individual players regarding royalties.

In the past, club sponsors had to get permission from players and the NHLPA to use player images for promotions such as a McDonald’s poster giveaway. Now, teams can feature four or more players in promotions without having such negotiations.

Because of the novelty of that local licensing agreement, few teams have used it this year, Kim said. Team executives say the meetings have alerted them to the availability of players for promotions, and they have begun to promote that accessibility when they talk to potential sponsors for next year.

“The NHLPA is being very aggressive about saying, ‘Here’s what you can do. Here’s what you can’t do. But if you want to use our guys, we’re all ears,’” said Lou DePaoli, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Atlanta Spirit, which owns the Atlanta Thrashers. “It wasn’t always that way, and it will help all of us.”

The Carolina Hurricanes are one of the few teams who have made use of the new licensing agreement. After bringing Dunkin’ Donuts on board as a corporate partner this year, the team designed a car decal featuring the company’s logo and star players such as Eric Staal. Local Dunkin’ Donuts give away the decals with each breakfast combo purchase.

“There were ways to do it in the past, but the way it’s set up now makes it easier and the players are far more receptive,” said Hurricanes president Jim Rutherford. “The biggest thing is players realize the importance of going out to companies to help bring in corporate packages, and that should give us an advantage next year.”

This is the first year each team has a player business representative acting as a liaison between the players and the team’s marketing staff. Those player representatives have sat in on the meetings, giving the NHLPA a chance to see how the representatives are working with their team, Kim said.

“We’re only one year in and there’s definitely more we can do,” Kim said, “but overall the players and the teams are excited about the new communication. It’s a good foundation to build off.”

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