SBJ/Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Sponsors engage fans at NHL All-Star

The NHL All-Star Game trails the Winter Classic in television ratings and game-day attendance, but the league and its partners say the event provides greater sponsorship opportunities to directly engage with fans.

“The Winter Classic is one big event, and to some degree there is a limited number of sponsorship exposure,” said Keith Wachtel, NHL senior vice president of integrated sales. “At [the All-Star Game] there are more opportunities for partners to activate on-site and to take advantage of the events.”

This year, 19 league partners boasted on-site or media activation during Sunday’s All-Star Game in Raleigh, increasing revenue by 12 percent from 2009. (The league did not hold an All-Star Game last year because of the Vancouver Olympics.) With the addition of last Friday’s All-Star Fantasy Draft, the All-Star weekend featured three events as well as a sizable fan expo at the Raleigh convention center. New partner Discover took on presenting sponsorship — part of a reported one-year, $5 million league deal — which included in-arena branding on team benches, sponsorship of the NHL Elimination Shootout event at the Saturday night skills competition, and a fan zone space where fans could take photos alongside the Stanley Cup.

By comparison, the Winter Classic earlier this month saw 14 league partners activate and a 20 percent jump in revenue from last year.

“The Winter Classic is more of a media value driver; it’s all about the game and the competition and the prime-time broadcast,” said John Lewicki, McDonald’s senior director of alliance marketing. “All-Star is more about consumer activation, about touching the fan in the local market. ”

For the All-Star Game, the McDonald’s In the Lineup program brought 12 children on the ice alongside the NHL players during the event’s pregame ceremony. The league’s quick-service restaurant partner, McDonald’s also sampled its McCafé beverages and sponsored a children’s play area at the convention center, and was presenting sponsor of the accuracy contest during the Saturday SuperSkills competition.

The six skills events — breakaway, fastest skater, shootout, accuracy, skills challenge relay and hardest shot — all featured presenting sponsors, with Honda picking up title sponsorship for the event. Honda, McDonald’s and Cisco are all Winter Classic partners with deeper on-site activation at the All-Star Game. In addition to holding title sponsorship of the inaugural All-Star Fantasy Draft on Friday — where the game’s captains selected teams from a pool of players — Cisco allowed fans to use its consumer video-conferencing product, called Umi, at the fan fair.

In addition to Discover, Sirius XM, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Gatorade, Time Warner, BlackBerry and 2K are partners that activated during the All-Star Game but had little or no presence during the Winter Classic, which was held this year in Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day.

Bridgestone is one of the few partners to reduce its presence from the Winter Classic, and the tire manufacturer brought a quarter as many guests to Raleigh as it did for the Winter Classic. Michael Fluck, Bridgestone’s director of brand and retail marketing, said the brand’s presence will be increased for the Feb. 20 Heritage Classic in Calgary.

“Ratings determine the value of our partnership, and we heavily analyze the numbers before we decide what [the partnership] will be worth,” Fluck said. “There is more excitement for our customers with the Winter Classic since we are title sponsor.”

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