NHL corporate partners were less likely this season to be recognized by the league’s fans than they were a year ago when fans were asked about the companies’ association with the league, according to the results of the seventh annual sponsor loyalty survey completed for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.
The drop in the percentage of fans who correctly identified the respective brands’ status as official league sponsors can be seen across the 10 sponsorship categories measured in the survey. Those declines range from less than 2 percentage points for Pepsi to 8 percentage points for Verizon and Gatorade.
NHL officials declined to comment on the results, which came in a season that saw teams play condensed 48-game regular-season schedules after labor negotiations wiped out the league’s usual October, November and December games. Also lost, because of the shortened schedule, were the league’s Winter Classic and All-Star Game events, prime activation opportunities for sponsors.
|Pepsi was part of a promotion that offered tickets to a Stanley Cup Final game.
For example, Honda became the league’s official automobile prior to the 2008-09 season, replacing Chrysler, which had held that distinction since 1995. Since then, Honda has seen its overall awareness level increase among fans by more than 8 percentage points, while Chrysler has dropped by 12 percentage points. Ford, General Motors and Toyota also have seen drops since Honda signed its deal.
Similarly, when the 2011 survey was fielded, Anheuser-Busch was nearing the end of a 17-year run as the league’s official beer. One-quarter of the fans in that survey correctly recognized the brewer’s status, double the level of the Coors brand. MillerCoors replaced Anheuser-Busch that summer, and in this year’s survey, Coors topped A-B in NHL fans’ mindshare for the first time.
In the quick-service restaurant category, when McDonald’s added U.S. rights in 2008 to the Canadian rights it had held since 1993, only 1.5 percentage points separated the brand from Subway and Burger King. McDonald’s now leads Subway by 7.5 percentage points among all fans and leads Burger King by 16 percentage points.
Additionally, Geico, the leader in the insurance category, has improved by 7 percentage points among all fans since signing its league deal prior to the 2010 season. Allstate and State Farm, meanwhile, have both seen drops.
Among other findings in the survey:
■ Pepsi saw a small drop (1.5 percentage points among all fans) in overall awareness but has topped rival Coca-Cola in three straight surveys. Coke held a 7 percentage-point advantage over Pepsi following the 2008-09 season but saw its fourth straight year of declines.
■ When asked to name the official sponsor for the specific categories in the survey, the response “I’m not sure” was at the highest level in the seven-year history of the study for all but one category: quick-service restaurants. Nearly 58 percent of the 401 fans who took part in this year’s study were unsure of the league’s QSR partner, nearly 14 percentage points higher than last year, but less than the almost 60 percent who responded that way in the inaugural study, done at the beginning of the 2007-08 season. At that time, McDonald’s was an NHL partner in Canada only. U.S. rights in the QSR category were open until McDonald’s added that element to its portfolio in 2008.
For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of 401 members of the Toluna online panel who were at least 18 years old.
Respondents were analyzed 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 the NHL’s teams are among Turnkey’s clients.
|Are you more or less likely to consider trying a product/service if that product/service is an official sponsor of the NHL?|
|Unaffected or less likely||53.5%||37.1%||46.0%||64.2%||55.6%||61.0%|
|Are you more or less likely to consciously support a company by purchasing its products/services if the company is an official sponsor of the NHL?|
|Unaffected or less likely||52.5%||33.2%||49.8%||66.7%||56.7%||61.8%|
|Are you more or less likely to recommend a product/service to a friend or family member if that product/service is an official sponsor of the NHL?|
|Unaffected or less likely||59.0%||39.6%||48.8%||64.7%||56.1%||62.3%|
SPONSORSHIP SIGNIFICANCE AND ASSESSMENT
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: 32 percent of NHL fans said they would be more likely to consider purchasing a vehicle that is made by the NHL’s official automobile sponsor if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate increased to 60 percent when considering only those NHL fans who correctly knew that Honda is the NHL’s official automobile.
|Category (NBA SPONSOR)||Among All NBA Fans||Among NBA Fans Who Correctly Identified Sponsor||Difference|
|Category (NHL sponsor)||Among All NHL Fans||Among NHL Fans Who Correctly Identified Sponsor||Difference|
|Automobile (Honda)||32%||60%||+28 percentage points|
|Quick-service restaurant (McDonald’s)||31%||58%||+27|
|Credit card (Discover/Visa)*||29%||53%||+24|
|Sports/energy drink (Gatorade)||35%||53%||+18|
|Wireless service provider (Verizon)||29%||43%||+14|
|Soft drink (Pepsi)||34%||46%||+12|
|Beer (Coors Light)^||31%||40%||+9|
* Data listed includes only responses for Discover, the league’s official credit card in the United States. Visa holds the category distinction in Canada.
^ As part of the Molson Coors partnership, Coors Light and Molson are both considered official beers of the NHL in North America, but Molson was not part of this survey.
Subject: What brands do fans think should be NHL sponsors?
To read: 42 percent of NHL fans said they think McDonald’s should be an NHL sponsor, compared with 22 percent who think Wendy’s should have an NHL deal. Those numbers became 71 percent and 25 percent, respectively, when considering only those NHL fans who correctly knew that McDonald’s is the NHL’s official sponsor in the quick-service restaurant category.
|Among all NHL fans||Among NHL Fans Who Correctly Identified Sponsor|
|NHL Sponsor/Competitor||Response Rates||Difference||Response Rates||Difference|
|McDonald’s/Wendy’s||42% / 22%||+20 percentage points||71% / 25%||+46 percentage points|
|Gatorade/Powerade||46% / 29%||+17||73% / 29%||+44|
|Geico/Allstate||34% / 29%||+5||63% / 28%||+35|
|Verizon/AT&T||37% / 31%||+6||61% / 31%||+30|
|Pepsi/Coca-Cola||40% / 46%||-6||60% / 33%||+27|
|Coors/Anheuser-Busch||33% / 39%||-6||55% / 32%||+23|
|Bridgestone/Michelin||29% / 28%||+1||53% / 32%||+21|
Notes: 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?
|I’m not sure||50.0%||34.2%||33.9%||54.2%||45.9%||44.6%|
Despite an 8 percentage-point drop among all fans from last year’s recognition numbers, Gatorade remains the brand that fans most associate with the NHL. The brand, through parent company PepsiCo’s sponsorship, has been a league sponsor since 2006. More than 100 gallons of G Series product were supplied to the prospects competing at this year’s NHL scouting combine.
|I’m not sure||43.5%||27.7%||34.4%||57.7%||46.9%||45.1%|
Rights in this category are split between Discover (United States) and Visa (Canada). Discover was the league’s top TV advertiser on NBC Sports Network’s NHL broadcasts, with more than $2 million spent on ads. Discover also teamed with Make-A-Wish and the NHL this spring to help grant the wish of 13-year-old cancer patient Logan Pix to have a day with the Stanley Cup. As for Visa, it used Facebook and Twitter to promote its #Smallenfreuden Small Play of the Game and Ultimate NHL Experience contests, offering as prizes jerseys, prepaid Visa cards, and trips to the 2014 Winter Classic and a Stanley Cup Final game.
|I’m not sure||53.0%||29.2%||43.9%||58.2%||49.0%||52.5%|
Geico spent $1.3 million on national TV ads this season, including a series of commercials with Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom. Geico also added the Los Angeles Kings to its roster of NHL team clients after the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup win. Category rival Allstate has been a partner of the NHL Players’ Association since 2010, drawing exposure from banner ads on that organization’s website.
|I’m not sure||47.5%||32.2%||34.4%||58.7%||46.9%||46.1%|
This is another split category for the league, with rights shared by Verizon (United States) and Bell (Canada). Verizon was the title sponsor of the Stanley Cup Bracket Challenge on NHL.com, a hockey version of NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket contests. The company also, in April, released a video on YouTube featuring spokesman Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals facing off in a street hockey game against commuters outside of the Verizon Center.
|I’m not sure||46.5%||35.6%||37.6%||53.2%||54.6%||43.6%|
Pepsi and Pizza Hut teamed for the Ultimate Experience at the Stanley Cup Final contest, in which Canadians could enter for a chance to win a trip for two to a Stanley Cup Final game this year. At the team level, Pepsi in March expanded its longtime association with the St. Louis Blues, agreeing to a five-year sponsorship renewal at the team’s founding partner level. Pepsi has had pouring rights at Scottrade Center since 1994, and now the arena’s 6,000-square-foot party deck is branded as the Pepsi Plaza.
|I’m not sure||55.5%||35.1%||42.1%||59.7%||52.6%||52.0%|
McDonald’s in January agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Kings to be the club’s presenting sponsor through the 2013-14 season. As part of the deal, the McDonald’s logo was placed on the team’s practice jerseys.
|I’m not sure||51.0%||33.7%||46.2%||57.7%||54.1%||52.5%|
A league sponsor since 2008, Honda is also an Anaheim Ducks team sponsor and holds the naming rights to the team’s Honda Center home. The Ducks’ Opening Night Sweepstakes winner received a 2013 Honda motorcycle, and in April, on fan appreciation night, a fan received a 2013 Honda Accord sedan.
|I’m not sure||38.5%||26.2%||30.3%||54.2%||43.8%||42.7%|
This was the second season in which the MillerCoors company held NHL rights, featuring Coors Light products in the United States and Molson labels in Canada. Additional exposure for the company’s association came in May, with the announcement of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series for the 2013-14 season. The four-game series includes a pair of games at Yankee Stadium ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII in New York/New Jersey along with outdoor games in Los Angeles (Dodger Stadium) and Chicago (Soldier Field). Meanwhile, Labatt Breweries of Canada signed a deal to promote Budweiser (both brands are owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev) on CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada.”
|I’m not sure||68.0%||56.4%||57.5%||73.1%||67.5%||66.7%|
Both Sheraton and Westin are Starwood hotel brands, and Starwood has the league’s official rights in this category. Starwood Preferred Guest members had the opportunity to win a pair of suite tickets through the company’s website to a New York Rangers playoff game at Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, the Westin Bristol Place in Toronto hosted this year’s NHL scouting combine.
|I’m not sure||47.0%||35.1%||NA||60.7%||54.1%||NA|
Bridgestone lost one of its featured events of the season when the NHL in November canceled the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic because of the ongoing lockout and labor negotiations. However, in April, the league announced that the 2014 version of the Jan. 1 game would be in Michigan and feature Detroit vs. Toronto as had been planned for this year. Bridgestone has been title sponsor of the Winter Classic since 2009.
* Official NHL sponsor
NA: Not available; fans were not asked about their awareness of sponsors in this category in 2011.