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Volume 21 No. 1
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NHL sponsor loyalty numbers move to top tier

NHL partners this spring continued to see an increase in the number of league fans who could correctly identify the companies as official sponsors of the league, according to the results of the sixth annual NHL sponsor awareness survey conducted by Turnkey Intelligence for SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily.

The majority of fans also indicated they have higher perceptions of, and were more likely to consider using, the NHL’s official brands compared to rivals of those brands. In this regard, the NHL’s survey results were on par with the likes of NASCAR and the PGA Tour and higher than the comparable results for the NBA, NFL and MLB.

The past three seasons have been especially productive for the NHL’s official partners in terms of fan recognition. The sponsors within the nine categories that this survey has tracked continuously during that period have all seen an increase in awareness among NHL fans. Five of those brands — Geico, Verizon, Coors, Honda and Discover — have seen double-digit percentage point jumps.

Among the study’s other findings:

More than 36 percent of avid NHL fans correctly identified Geico as the league’s official insurer, the highest recognition rate for any insurer during the six years of similar annual studies of other leagues. Geico became the NHL’s official insurance company during the 2009-10 season with a deal that included exposure via the NHL Network and

Honda was correctly identified by more than 20 percent of the surveyed fans, a fourfold increase from the study in spring 2008, which was fielded just before Honda replaced longtime NHL sponsor Dodge as the league’s official automobile.

Honda’s “Passionate Fans” ad campaign included spots on NBC and NBC Sports Network during both NHL and non-NHL sports programming, ads in USA Today, and on and NHL team sites.

“We’ve expanded our presence with the NHL, primarily through media, and benefited through the improved NBC deal [for rights to the NHL],” said Tom Peyton, Honda’s brand manager. “And this is our fourth year, and consistency always helps.”

Honda also has a 15-year, $60.45 million naming-rights deal for the arena in Anaheim. That brought the brand additional exposure through the Ducks’ six nationally televised games this past season.

For the second straight year, Verizon was correctly identified by nearly 31 percent of all fans as the league’s official wireless services provider, the company’s highest recognition rate across our similar annual studies of other sports. In the NFL, with whom Verizon also has a league-level deal, the comparable mark this year was 30 percent among NFL fans.

Gatorade remains the brand that fans are most likely to associate with the NHL (with a recognition rate of 32.3 percent among all fans), and both avid and casual fans are more likely than they were in 2009 to recognize the longtime partnership. Among casual fans specifically, the brand’s mark increased 7.4 percentage points compared with last year’s study, the biggest such gain of the year. However, Gatorade’s position as having the league’s most recognized partnership is being challenged, with Verizon (30.5 percent), Geico (29.2 percent), and Visa (28.8 percent) not far behind.

Almost 63 percent of avid NHL fans said they are more likely to consider trying a product or service if that product or service is an official sponsor of the NHL. That compares to response rates of almost 70 percent for NASCAR fans and 67 percent for PGA Tour fans — and stands above the rates for NBA fans (53 percent), MLB fans (49 percent) and NFL fans (40 percent).

Fans who correctly identified league sponsors were more likely than general fans to use that knowledge when making their own consumer decisions. For example, the NHL 16 months ago signed a seven-year deal with SABMiller for its beer category rights. Despite the fact that rival Anheuser-Busch had been the official U.S. partner since 1994 and maintains a team-level portfolio of approximately two-thirds of the NHL’s clubs, fans in the know gave first-year partners MillerCoors in the United States and Molson Coors in Canada stronger marks than the incumbent: 49 percent vs. 40 percent.

“The NHL is doing a great job shifting fans’ consideration and perceptions,” said Nikolay Panchev, vice president of research at Turnkey Intelligence. “NHL fans that are aware of the actual sponsor per category have higher perceptions and higher consideration of that brand compared to their key competitors.”


Subject: How much more likely are fans to consider purchasing/using an NHL sponsor’s product/service if they are aware of the relationship?
To read: 49% of NHL fans said they would be more likely to consider eating at the league’s official quick-service restaurant if they knew what restaurant brand had that designation. The rate increased to 70% when considering only those NHL fans who correctly knew that McDonald’s is the NHL’s official QSR.

QSR (McDonald’s) 49%   70%   +21 percentage points
Wireless service provider (Verizon) 44%   61%   +17
Sports/energy drink (Gatorade) 51%   68%   +17
Tire (Bridgestone) 44%   58%   +14
Soft drink (Pepsi) 53%   66%   +13
Automotive (Honda) 45%   56%   +11
Insurance (Geico) 44%   53%   +9
Beer (MillerCoors) 49%   56%   +7

Subject: What brands do fans think should be NHL sponsors?
To read: 44% of NHL fans said they think Verizon should be a league sponsor, compared with 35% who think rival AT&T should have an NHL deal. Those numbers became 67% and 30%, respectively, when considering only those NHL fans who correctly knew that Verizon is the league’s official wireless service provider.

  Among all NHL fans   Among NHL fans who correctly identified
Verizon/AT&T 44%/35% +9 percentage points   67%/30% +37 percentage points
Bridgestone/Michelin 35%/33% +2   60%/24% +36
Gatorade/Powerade 57%/37% +20   71%/36% +35
MillerCoors/A-B 37%/46% -9   49%/40% +9
Pepsi/Coca-Cola 49%/60% -11   66%/62% +4

Notes: Fans were asked to select the brands they felt belonged in the NHL as sponsors. Fans could select both the official sponsor and the competitor, if they chose to do so. The one specific competing company listed was selected by Turnkey for consideration in the survey file.

Which of the following is an official sponsor of the NHL?

SPORTS/ENERGY DRINK 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Gatorade 34.2% 36.2% 30.5%   30.4% 23.0% 21.5%
Powerade 12.4% 10.9% 6.9%   7.2% 10.8% 8.5%
Red Bull 6.4% 9.1% 9.4%   8.2% 6.4% 5.5%
Monster 5.9% 2.3% 4.4%   3.1% 4.4% 4.5%
I’m not sure 34.2% 33.9% 41.9%   45.9% 44.6% 53.5%

For the second year in row, Gatorade scored the highest recognition numbers for any league sponsor despite a drop of two percentage points among avid fans. In addition to its league-level work, the PepsiCo brand extended its deal with Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby through 2015 and featured the NHLer in commercials that aired online via and YouTube and on TV in his native Canada.

WIRELESS 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010

Verizon 35.1% 36.2% 20.2%   25.8% 25.0% 16.5%
AT&T 12.4% 12.2% 15.8%   9.8% 8.8% 13.5%
T-Mobile 9.4% 5.9% 9.4%   7.7% 6.9% 6.0%
Sprint 6.4% 4.5% 4.9%   8.2% 6.9% 6.5%
I’m not sure 32.2% 34.4% 45.3%   46.9% 46.1% 51.0%

Verizon in February agreed to a three-year renewal of its U.S. partnership with the NHL, NHL Players’ As­sociation and NBC Sports Group. The deal provides Verizon with exclusive content via the NHL GameCenter apps for smartphones and tablets. With the Verizon NHL GameCenter premium app, customers can stream programming, and all NHL games on NBC are available to Verizon customers using both the basic and premium apps. Bell has the category rights in Canada.

INSURANCE 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Geico 36.1% 24.4% 19.2%   22.2% 15.2% 13.0%
Allstate 12.9% 6.8% 11.3%   6.2% 9.3% 7.5%
State Farm 5.9% 9.1% 7.9%   9.8% 7.8% 8.0%
I’m not sure 29.2% 43.9% 50.2%   49.0% 52.5% 54.5%

Geico in December renewed its league deal for an additional three years. As part of its deal, Geico serves as a sponsor of the Stanley Cup playoffs, All-Star Weekend (when held in the U.S.) and the Winter Classic. During this year’s Winter Classic broadcast on NBC, the company debuted two spots featuring the Geico gecko character that ran for the remainder of the season. The brand received placement on dasherboards for all nationally televised games during the regular season and playoffs, and it has 19 team deals, as well.

CREDIT CARD 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Visa 32.2% 29.9% 31.0%   25.3% 23.5% 22.5%
Discover 18.3% 10.9% 5.4%   11.9% 11.8% 4.0%
American Express 9.9% 10.4% 8.4%   8.2% 9.3% 7.5%
MasterCard 10.4% 12.2% 12.3%   6.7% 8.3% 8.5%
I’m not sure 27.7% 34.4% 42.9%   46.9% 45.1% 56.0%

Both of the NHL’s credit card partners renewed their sponsorships with the league during the 2011-12 season. Visa retained its Canadian marketing rights, and with its renewed Hockey Love Hurts promotion, Canadian cardholders were entered to win a trip to a Stanley Cup Final game with 10 of their friends when they used their Visa card in April. Meanwhile, Discover, which holds the NHL’s official credit card rights in the United States, became the lead sponsor of this year’s Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown, which featured Boston vs. Detroit in a game that aired on NBC the day after Thanksgiving. Discover also ran 30-second TV ads featuring Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Boston’s Tim Thomas with the brand’s “Peggy” character.

SOFT DRINK 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Pepsi 26.2% 27.6% 21.2%   21.1% 24.0% 16.5%
Coca-Cola 19.3% 20.4% 26.1%   14.4% 19.1% 18.5%
Dr Pepper 7.4% 4.1% 2.5%   3.6% 3.9% 4.0%
Mountain Dew 5.0% 4.5% 4.9%   2.6% 5.0% 2.5%
I’m not sure 35.6% 37.6% 40.4%   54.6% 43.6% 51.0%

In addition to PepsiCo having a league-level deal with the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, Pepsi brands have official-sponsor standing with 11 NHL teams. The league and company in May finalized negotiations on a five-year extension of their deal that calls for additional promotions around the league’s big events, like the Winter Classic, and during the spring. Much of Pepsi’s current NHL activation occurs in Canada, including PepsiCo Canada sponsoring a promotion called Celebrate Hockey’s Heroes in which the grand prize was a trip for four to the 2012 NHL awards.

QUICK SERVICE RESTAURANT 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
McDonald’s 25.7% 21.7% 16.3%   20.6% 18.6% 16.0%
Subway 16.8% 16.3% 12.3%   9.3% 9.8% 8.0%
Burger King 5.4% 4.5% 5.9%   5.7% 5.9% 4.5%
Taco Bell 6.9% 5.4% 4.9%   2.6% 4.4% 2.0%
KFC 4.0% 4.5% 4.9%   3.6% 5.9% 4.0%
I’m not sure 35.1% 42.1% 50.7%   52.6% 52.0% 58.0%

McDonald’s, the league’s official QSR in the United States, signed a multiyear renewal of its deal in Febru­ary. McDonald’s serves as the presenting partner of February’s annual Hockey Day In America by the NHL and NBC and is an official partner of the league’s Premiere Series, Winter Classic, All-Star Game, All-Star Skills Competition and NHL awards.

AUTOMOTIVE 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Honda 21.3% 12.2% 7.9%   19.1% 11.8% 6.0%
Ford 11.2% 18.1% 15.8%   6.4% 7.8% 13.5%
General Motors 5.6% 8.6% 14.3%   11.7% 10.3% 11.0%
Toyota 8.4% 4.5% 8.4%   6.7% 6.4% 8.0%
Chrysler 10.4% 7.2% 3.9%   4.1% 6.4% 6.5%
I’m not sure 33.7% 46.2% 46.3%   54.1% 52.5% 54.0%

A league sponsor since 2008, Honda was the first of seven league sponsors to renew with the NHL this past season and will remain a sponsor of the Winter Classic and title sponsor of the Super Skills competition at the All-Star Game when played in the United States. That comes after a 2011 in which Honda’s TV ad spending nationally increased to rank the company No. 21 among all sports ad spenders for the year, according to Nielsen data, up eight spots from 2010.

BEER 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Anheuser-Busch 24.3% 28.1% 23.6%   19.6% 21.6% 19.5%
Coors 21.8% 13.6% 10.8%   17.5% 11.3% 7.0%
Miller 8.9% 9.5% 11.3%   9.3% 11.8% 10.0%
Labatt 7.9% 8.1% 8.9%   5.7% 5.9% 6.5%
I’m not sure 26.2% 30.3% 39.9%   43.8% 42.7% 49.0%

Coors’ response rate jumped more than eight percentage points among avid NHL fans and six percentage points among casual fans for what was the first season of MillerCoors’ record $375 million deal with the NHL. During the 2012 playoffs, 4,000 bars across the United States and 2,500 in Canada featured Coors Light and Molson Canadian draft with Stanley Cup tap handles. Budweiser and Labatt Breweries of Canada previously had the league’s rights in this category.

HOTEL 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Marriott 11.9% 8.6% 10.8%   7.7% 8.8% 8.0%
Holiday Inn 8.4% 10.0% 8.4%   7.2% 3.9% 7.5%
Hilton 6.9% 8.6% 6.9%   4.1% 4.9% 5.0%
Hyatt 5.9% 3.6% 5.4%   2.1% 2.9% 6.0%
Sheraton 2.5% 3.2% 4.9%   4.1% 2.9% 3.0%
I’m not sure 56.4% 57.5% 56.2%   67.5% 66.7% 61.5%

League sponsor Starwood Hotels, whose brands include the Sheraton label, held online auctions for its premium members allowing them the chance to bid on VIP trips to a Stanley Cup Final game, the NHL draft and the NHL awards show. The winners’ packages included a pair of tickets to the event, meet and greets, behind-the-scenes access, and admission to official after-parties.

TIRE 2012 2011 2010   2012 2011 2010
Bridgestone 31.2% NA NA   21.6% NA NA
Goodyear 14.4% NA NA   13.4% NA NA
Michelin 8.9% NA NA   5.7% NA NA
Firestone 6.4% NA NA   3.6% NA NA
I’m not sure 35.1% NA NA   54.1% NA NA

More than 31 percent of avid NHL fans correctly selected Bridgestone as the league’s official tire. The com­pany has been the title sponsor of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic since 2009, and it used the Classic this year to launch a series of ads that have run throughout sports programming in 2012.

NA: Not available; fans were not asked about their awareness of sponsors in this category in 2011 or 2010.


For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of 400 members of the Toluna online panel who were at least 18 years old.
The 2012 survey was conducted May 21-26, a period that coincided with this year’s conference finals. Last year’s survey ran at a similar point on the calendar.

Respondents were anaylzed based on their avidity levels. “Avid” fans are those who responded “4” or “5” to the question “How big a fan are you of the NHL?” and claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a week or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 10 games per season” and “have a favorite team.” Fans categorized as “casual” responded “3” to the same initial question, then claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a month or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 3 games per season” and “have a favorite team.”

When asked to identify official sponsors, respondents selected from a field of brands that was provided to them for each business sector. Only the top-scoring companies and brands are listed in the results published here. The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for the surveys is +/- 4 percent.

Turnkey Intelligence performs research work for more than 70 North American major league teams, league offices and brands. More than one-third of NHL’s teams are among Turnkey’s clients.