SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Heritage draws top sponsors

Fueled by robust sales to Canadian brands and strong anticipated television ratings in the U.S. and Canada, this week’s NHL Heritage Classic has outsold the Winter Classic in sponsorship.

“The overall revenue for the Heritage Classic will be smaller [than the Winter Classic], but at a sponsorship level we are tracking just ahead,” said Kyle McMann, the NHL’s vice president of partnership marketing. The NHL declined to release sales figures.

The game, pitting the Calgary Flames against the Montreal Canadiens at Calgary’s 40,000-seat McMahon Stadium on Sunday, is Canada’s first outdoor NHL game since 2003, when Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium hosted the original Heritage Classic game between the Oilers and Canadiens. The league sold out of 20,000 public tickets on Dec. 9 in five minutes, with the remainder of the seats being held for season-ticket holders and team and league partners.

The league sold out of its sponsorship inventory for the outdoor game last Wednesday, with four presenting sponsors and nine game partners lined up. Tim Hortons took on title sponsorship of the event in December as part of a multiyear deal as the NHL’s Canadian quick-service restaurant and coffee partner. Through January, the Canadian restaurateur promoted the game at its 3,100 franchises with posters and digital signage. Tim Hortons will broadcast four ads — three 30-second and one 60-second — during the game’s telecast, and the restaurateur is bringing approximately 140 people to the game.

“The [Heritage Classic] was one of the big drivers behind our partnership with the league,” said Rob Forbes, senior director, regional marketing and national promotions for Tim Hortons. “We have always believed that passion for hockey connects Canadians.”

With Calgary’s average daytime February temperature at just under 16 degrees, brands are gearing their on-site activation around warmth. Tim Hortons will distribute free coffee, and Canadian Tire is giving out 40,000 heated seat cushions to complement its in-stadium signage and 15- and 30-second ad spots. Electronics maker LG will have a clothes dryer at its 26-foot activation trailer to warm up gloves and hats. Bridgestone will run its traditional slap-shot competition, which awards a set of snow tires to the fastest shot of the day.

“For our Canadian component, this is a really big deal,” said Phil Pacsi, vice president of consumer marketing at Bridgestone, which is bringing 40 guests and staffers to the event. “We would have loved to have been title sponsor of [the Heritage Classic]. It was a budget issue.”

Versus, which controls U.S. broadcast rights, will see the event promoted by NBC as part of the network’s “Hockey Day in America” on most of its television properties, including the “Today” show, Golf Channel and Bravo, as well as on 20 NBC-Universal websites.

CBC, which oversees Canadian broadcast rights, is shooting the game in 3-D, its second 3-D hockey production to date. The Canadian broadcaster is bringing between 80 and 100 staffers to the game to produce its signature show “Hockey Night in Canada” from Calgary.

“Canadians love to see big events and they want to see them played on Canadian soil,” said David Masse, senior director of CBC Sports. “Outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs, this will be the most important game of the season for Canadians.”

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