SBJ/October 31-November 6, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

NHL sells title rights in Canada to All-Star events

Is the discriminating Canadian hockey palate ready for the Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game?

Well, it had better be, because the NHL has signed Canadian quick-service restaurant Tim Hortons as the title sponsor in Canada for its 2012 All-Star weekend, the first such title sponsor for the NHL and believed to be the first among the Big Four sports.

Last year Discover Card held presenting sponsorship rights for the game in Raleigh, which marked the league’s first All-Star partner in that category since before the 2004-05 lockout. A presenting sponsorship also was sold to Nextel for the 2002 All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Tim Hortons’ experience as title sponsor of this year’s Heritage Classic prompted the new deal.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
But this deal is unique in that, in Canada only, it will make the game the Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game. The rights do not extend to the U.S. The deal is also unique within the mainstream sports landscape, as the NFL, MLB and NBA are believed to have never sold title sponsorships to their respective all-star events. Historical data on any such deals was not available.

NHL officials declined to discuss the value of the sponsorship, though sources familiar with the league valued it in the low seven figures.

Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s senior vice president of integrated sales, said the title sponsorship affirms the league’s strategy of expanding the All-Star Game into a four-day event. This year the All-Star event runs Jan. 26-29 in Ottawa and includes the game, a player draft, the skills competition and a concert.

“We changed our model into something you don’t see with the other leagues,” Wachtel said. “I’m not sure if we would get a title if we just had the traditional All-Star format.”

Kyle McMann, the league’s vice president of partnership marketing, said Tim Hortons’ ability to drive tune-in through its network of stores made the restaurateur a perfect partner for the game. Named for its founder who was also a longtime NHL defenseman, Tim Hortons is Canada’s largest restaurant chain with more than 3,200 locations and a 45 percent market share in the fast-food category.

“They are an iconic hockey voice within the country,” McMann said. “We had great success with them last year.”
In 2010-11, Tim Hortons replaced McDonald’s as the NHL’s Canadian quick-service partner, and as part of the deal the restaurant also took on title sponsorship of the Feb. 20 Heritage Classic outdoor game in Calgary.

According to Robert Forbes, senior director for regional marketing and national promotions for Tim Hortons, the company’s experience as the Heritage Classic title sponsor last February convinced it to acquire title sponsorship rights for the All-Star Game. The NHL did not bring the Heritage Classic back for 2012.

“From a broadcast perspective, the signage was tremendous, our profile at the event was amazing,” Forbes said. “With the Heritage gone, we think the All-Star Game will be the biggest hockey event in Canada. It’s a great opportunity.”

A league representative said the deal was done in-house between Tim Hortons and the NHL. The league’s Canadian broadcast partners for the game, CBC and RDS, will refer to the game as the “Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game.” The U.S. broadcaster, NBC, will not refer to the title sponsor as the deal did not include any U.S. rights.

McMann said Tim Hortons will receive center-ice branding, dasherboard and other in-arena signage, and will be identified in all marks in Canada. Tim Hortons is also title sponsor of the elimination shootout contest in the All-Star skills competition. Forbes said the package includes the media buy on CBC, but not on RDS. He said the company is assessing media opportunities with the latter broadcaster.

Forbes said the restaurateur will promote the event in all of its Canadian stores with posters, tray liners and digital menu boards. Forbes said the company also will introduce a branded All-Star doughnut within the Ottawa market during the month of January. In addition, Tim Hortons will use the All-Star Game to promote its Timbits Minor Hockey youth program, Forbes said.

Steve Ryan, former president of NHL Enterprises and former president of the Pittsburgh Penguins, said he attended the 2011 All-Star Weekend in Raleigh and believes the additional events have added considerable value to the package. Ryan was with the league when it added the skills competition in 1991.

“The title sponsor for the All-Star Game is the title sponsor of an entire weekend now,” said Ryan, who now operates his own consulting firm. “It’s not a novel idea, but it’s an idea whose time has come.”
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