SBJ/March 12-18, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Cup at heart of NHL’s campaign for the playoffs

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The NHL playoffs and the 120-year-old Stanley Cup championship trophy are at the heart of what makes the NHL unique. So in targeting new fans, casual fans and veteran hockey fans who tune out after their home team is eliminated from the playoffs, the NHL is giving them a reason to stick around: “Because It’s The Cup.’’

Breaking this week, the league’s new postseason marketing campaign replaces the two-year-old “History Will Be Made” campaign and showcases a new and unprecedented degree of cooperation between the league and MolsonCoors, which signed an NHL-record $375 million North American sponsorship deal last February. Two indications of what that kind of money will buy: The new NHL campaign was done by lead MillerCoors agency DraftFCB, and it includes some bar scenes.

On the promotional side, while the league has been protective of how it permits sponsors and even licensees to use Stanley Cup images, during this postseason, 4,000 bars across the U.S. and 2,500 in Canada will be drawing Molson Canadian and Coors Light draft with Stanley Cup tap handles.

In an attempt to attract casual hockey fans and sports fans who aren’t partial to hockey, league marketers are trying to turn the Stanley Cup playoffs into their own version of March Madness. With all the buzz about social media, an overall campaign objective was to attract non-hockey fans by “socializing the Stanley Cup playoffs,” said Brian Jennings, NHL executive vice president for marketing. Accordingly, anyone shown watching hockey in the group is doing so in a social setting.

Each promo is a string of sentences, beginning with “Because,” i.e.: “Because it’s good to get together over something cold. Because it’s a good excuse to go out on a Wednesday night. Because in hockey, there are two halftimes. Because it’s fun to say Zamboni. Because it’s the Cup.”

The shift from “History Will Be Made,” directed at avid fans, to “Because It’s The Cup,” aimed at casual and non-fans, was based on research among casual and non-hockey fans showing that even those who could barely name a player on a team other than their local NHL club still had a knowledge of and appreciation for the Stanley Cup’s heritage.

“That recognition is our opportunity to take advantage of,” Jennings said. “If we are going to get new fans, this is the time of year to do it, when they can see the best hockey.”

NHL business partners are supporting the campaign. MillerCoors (MolsonCoors in Canada) is augmenting the tap program with a trading-card program from league licensee Panini that will offer millions of cards depicting Stanley Cup-winning teams of the past as premiums. There also will be themed cans and packaging from the brewer across millions of beer cans and bottles.

Jennings said that nearly every league sponsor will do some sort of “Because It’s The Cup” branding, via packaging, digital or social media. NHL licensees Old Time Hockey, Reebok and VF are producing “Because It’s The Cup” apparel, and the NHL and NBC stores in New York, along with those of league partners Bob’s Stores, Canadian Tire, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Lids, Modell’s and Sports Chalet, will feature playoff point-of-sale advertising.

National rights holders NBC and NBC Sports Network will air the spots. As always, local NHL rights holders are expected to produce their own versions of the campaign.

The TV campaign starts with four ads:

• “Two Half Times,” which celebrates the camaraderie catalyzed by the playoffs in living rooms and bar rooms.

• “Where It’s Been,” a look at the odd places the Stanley Cup has been.

• “City,” how a playoff run coalesces a community.

• “Story,” a history of the Stanley Cup trophy.
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