SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Marketing and Sponsorship

After featured role at Vancouver Olympics, Gretzky scoring again as corporate pitchman

Hockey icon Wayne Gretzky is once again an in-demand corporate pitchman following his work in highly visible roles at the Vancouver Olympics, where the Canadian men’s hockey team won gold.

Gretzky in recent months has signed new promotional deals with EA Sports, TD Bank and Skechers as well as an extension with Breitling watches. The deals add to relationships Gretzky has with Pepsi, Ford, Samsung and Bigelow Tea.

With EA Sports, Gretzky is the cover athlete for the brand’s new hockey title for the Nintendo Wii, “NHL Slapshot.”

The revival comes as Gretzky has begun to rehabilitate his image following an embattled tenure as coach and managing general partner of the Phoenix Coyotes, in part through a high-profile spot lighting the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony in Vancouver. Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, remains popular with fans, particularly in his native Canada.

Gretzky was a special adviser to the 2010 Canadian Olympic hockey team behind Steve Yzerman, executive director for Team Canada. Gretzky also was an ambassador for the Olympic host committee.

“Interest in Wayne is at an all-time high since his retirement [in 1999],” said Darren Blake, Gretzky’s Phoenix-based business manager. “Through Vancouver, he’s transformed back into Wayne Gretzky, legendary hockey player, and not the disgruntled head coach.”

Specific financial terms for the new endorsement signings were not disclosed but range from low six figures to low seven figures each per year. Initial discussions on the new endorsements began soon after the Olympics but were generally not completed till summer, with activations designed to coincide with the 2010-11 hockey season.

EA Sports, releasing its first NHL title for the Wii with “NHL Slapshot,” is using Gretzky to broaden its customer demographic beyond the heavy concentration of males ages 15 to 30 that play its simulation-based titles on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A high-profile TV commercial for the game recently debuted featuring Gretzky breaking household items with a hockey stick while watching an NHL game before being given the hockey stick-shaped controller that comes with the video game.

“Wayne is a natural fit for that more family-oriented, casual audience that we’re targeting for this game,” said David Le, EA Sports director of marketing.
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