SBJ/20081222/This Week's News

McDonald’s extends NHL sponsorship rights to U.S.

The NHL has added McDonald’s to its roster of corporate sponsors with U.S. rights. The pre-eminent quick-service restaurant has signed a deal through the 2009-10 season. McDonald’s has been a Canadian sponsor of the league since 1993 and has local rights deals with 15 NHL teams, including one in its final stages with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Under the deal, McDonald’s gets ads on NHL.com and the NHL Network and makes advertising commitments to NHL rights holders NBC and Versus. The deal also includes USA Hockey rights, which fit nicely with McDonald’s TOP Olympic deal. NHL Players’ Association rights for the U.S. were not included.

At the upcoming Winter Classic outdoor game, McDonald’s gets exclusive branding behind the player benches and penalty boxes in the NBC telecast. At the NHL All-Star Game, the QSR will sponsor the accuracy competition within the Honda-titled skills competition.

McDonald’s has done some impressive nationwide NHL premium programs in Canada, including mini-jerseys, mini-trophies and trading cards, but, at least initially, those elements will not migrate south. “It will be media focused for now,” said John Lewicki, McDonald’s senior director of alliance marketing. “We’ll use the Winter Classic to push Premium Roast coffee, because that’s a good match.”

Since every sports property covets McDonald’s reach and marketing prowess, this is an impressive win for the NHL, which has been trying to convince many of its larger partners with Canadian-only rights to extend their sponsorships to the states. The addition of McDonald’s as the league’s official QSR concludes a year in which the NHL added Honda and Cisco, renewed Anheuser-Busch and is close to a wireless deal in Canada. The NHL has not had a corporate sponsor in the coveted QSR category since Quiznos left after the 2002-03 season.

Lewicki said that having the Winter Classic in Chicago was important, but not critical, in clinching the media-laden deal. “When we started talking about this seriously, the [outdoor] game was going to be in New York,” he said. “It’s a unique event we can attach ourselves to — that’s more important.”

Added Keith Wachtel, NHL senior vice president of corporate sales and marketing: “We’ve gained some momentum and established the Winter Classic as an important date for our league and sponsors.”

Sponsorship sales for the 2009 Winter Classic are up 40 percent from the 2008 game.

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