SBJ/March 11-17, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

CCM’s youth focus helps allay lockout pain

Having the foresight to focus a campaign around elite youth hockey players enabled CCM to minimize damage during the NHL lockout, but looking back, Reebok’s hockey brand cannot dismiss the setbacks that were sustained during the four-month league shutdown.

“There was a significant drop-off,” said Glen Thornborough, CCM’s vice president of global marketing. “It was not unexpected. When your product is utilized in hundreds of games being played before crowds of 15,000 to 20,000 in arenas and big audiences on TV, and then there aren’t any games, there are going to be losses.”

To be sure, the relationship between the NHL and Reebok/CCM, the league’s on-ice jersey supplier, remains a strong and profitable one.
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And while Thornborough, speaking last week, declined to provide specifics on the losses CCM suffered because of the lockout, his comments are notable. During the September to January work stoppage, Molson Coors was the only league sponsor to publicly express frustration and reveal that its sales were suffering as a result of canceled games.

Thornborough said CCM did not expect the NHL lockout to be as long as it was. He also said, though, that CCM’s plan to place an
CCM has a “head-to-toe” agreement with Montreal goaltender Carey Price (top) and deals with other young stars such as John Tavares (middle), but its “Start Your Legend” campaign went even younger.
emphasis on youth programs starting last summer “turned out to be a great decision for us.”

CCM hosted skills camps for 125 select youth players ages 11 and 12 in eight North American cities last summer: Calgary, Boston, New York, Montreal, Toronto, Minneapolis, Detroit and Vancouver. Each player received a full set of CCM gear. While the NHL was shut down, CCM built print and broadcast ad campaigns around the young players called “Start Your Legend.”

The skills camps will expand this summer from eight to 16 cities, including some in Europe. The company also is hosting “speed camps” this year, five-hour clinics instructing youth players on skating. After presenting one in Quebec City last month, there will be camps in St. Paul, Minn., on April 27 and in Sweden on May 15.

CCM and the NHL have been partners since the mid-1980s. That relationship continued under a 10-year agreement between the NHL and Montreal-based The Hockey Co., which owned the CCM brand, that was signed in March 2003. The next year, Reebok purchased The Hockey Co. for $204 million plus $125 million in assumed debt.

Although no official announcements have been made, Brian Jennings, the NHL’s executive vice president of marketing, said the partners’ decade-long agreement has been amended “a few times” since it was first reached and that the NHL and CCM were in the middle of a “very long-term agreement” that extends beyond next season. He would not reveal the deal’s expiration date.

One thing is certain: Jennings credits CCM for its marketing efforts at all levels of hockey.

“Reebok/CCM is critically important to our business and should be commended for doing an amazing job in building brand equity and presence, especially in youth hockey,” Jennings said. “When we were dormant, CCM focused on grassroots programs and a key demographic that wants their equipment: youth players.”

The return of the NHL, along with CCM’s emphasis on marketing to youth, is good timing for the release of CCM’s new skate, RBZ, in July.

“We’re back on the treadmill,” Thornborough said. “The NHL playoffs are right around the corner, and we expect to be active. No matter how much we do with youth hockey development, it’s no secret that our core business is in the pros.”

CCM has equipment endorsement agreements with young NHL stars John Tavares, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, among others, along with what Thornborough called a “head-to-toe” agreement with Montreal goaltender Carey Price.

Asked if he was relieved that the labor deal reached in January between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association was a 10-year agreement, Thornborough said, “Let’s put it this way: Stability is very good for anyone in this business.”

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