The recent NHL season brought the league not only record game attendance and strong TV ratings, but the league’s corporate partners also received higher levels of recognition by NHL fans than they did in the previous season, according to the results of the eighth annual sponsor loyalty survey conducted for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.
The NHL’s corporate partners in each of the sponsorship categories measured in this year’s survey saw an increase in the percentage of fans who correctly identified those companies as being official sponsors of the league. That marks a complete turn from last year, when there was an across-the-board decline in fan awareness. That survey was fielded following a season that saw teams play a condensed, 48-game schedule after a league lockout wiped out the traditional start to the season.
Gatorade, Honda, Geico, Coors and Verizon each rebounded enough to approach the record response levels they received in 2012.
MillerCoors built a mountain of promotions around the Stadium Series.
For Coors, its increase came in a season that saw the company featured through the inaugural Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, the four-game outdoor slate of games that crossed Dodger Stadium (Jan. 25), Soldier Field (March 1), and Yankee Stadium (Jan. 26 and Jan. 29).
Scott Bussen, marketing spokesman for parent company MillerCoors, cited activation in high-traffic consumer areas as a means of raising awareness for the series. In Chicago, for example, the Coors Light Clusterpuck, a 40,000-pound ice mountain, was set up in Wrigleyville one week prior to the Pittsburgh-Chicago game at Soldier Field. Fans could win prizes at the interactive display, including tickets to the Penguins-Blackhawks matchup. The display was also built at The Grove mall in Los Angeles prior to the Anaheim-Los Angeles Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium.
In the Northeast, the Coors Light Explorers — the men from the TV commercials who brave the elements to deliver cold Coors Light beers to bar patrons — visited New York and New Jersey bars throughout January, also offering contests to participating fans.
All these events were heavily promoted on the Coors Light Facebook page and Twitter feed.
MillerCoors’ sponsorship of the Stadium Series is part of the beer company’s seven-year, $375 million deal signed with the league in February 2011. Since signing the deal, the brand’s awareness level in the survey has more than doubled: rising from 8.9 percent in the 2010 survey to 19.5 percent this year.
Additionally, Coors Light has had a strong advertising presence through NHL programming, on TV and online, highlighted by the brand’s sponsorship of NBCSN’s 23 “Wednesday Night Rivalry” broadcasts, which averaged 559,000 viewers this past season.
Pepsi was another NHL partner that focused much of its activation efforts during the 2013-14 season on the league’s marquee events. Pepsi sports marketing director Justin Toman said the brand activated most heavily around the Winter Classic and the four Stadium Series games, leveraging both Pepsi and Mountain Dew as part of its contractual league buys on NBC.
One quarter of the survey’s fans were aware of Pepsi’s official soda status, up from 22 percent last year and one percentage point below the brand’s all-time high, reached in 2011. Pepsi has been an official NHL partner since 2006.
Among other findings in the survey:
n Bridgestone returned as title sponsor of the NHL Winter Classic, a role it’s held since 2009; there was no game in 2013 because of the lockout. The tire maker’s logo received extensive exposure as a result of the game’s success: 8.2 million viewers in the United States and Canada watched the game; sales of game-related merchandise were up 60 percent over the previous high, generated at the 2011 game in Pittsburgh; and there were more than 5.4 million game-related impressions on Facebook on New Year’s Day, the day the game was played at Michigan Stadium.
n Gatorade and McDonald’s each saw a gain of nearly 10 percentage points among avid fans who correctly identified them as league partners.
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 2014 survey was conducted May 20-23, a period that coincided with the NHL conference finals. The 2013 and 2012 surveys ran at a similar point during those seasons.
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.
IMPACT ON SAMPLING AND SUPPORT
|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||39.2%||53.5%||37.1%||54.2%||64.2%||55.6%|
|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||37.2%||52.5%||33.2%||50.8%||66.7%||56.7%|
|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||42.2%||59.0%||39.6%||57.2%||64.7%||56.1%|
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: 52 percent of NHL fans said they would be more likely to consider purchasing a soft drink that is the NHL's official soft drink sponsor if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate increased to 71 percent when considering only those NHL fans who correctly knew that Pepsi is the NHL's official soft drink.
|CATEGORY (NHL SPONSOR)||AMONG ALL NHL FANS||AMONG NHL FANS WHO CORRECTLY IDENTIFIED THE SPONSOR||DIFFERENCE|
|Soft drink (Pepsi)||52%||71%||+19 pct. points|
|Quick-service restaurant (McDonald's)||47%||65%||+18 pct. points|
|Tire (Bridgestone)||46%||63%||+17 pct. points|
|Credit card (Visa*)||45%||62%||+17 pct. points|
|Insurance company (Geico)||43%||58%||+15 pct. points|
|Automotive (Honda)||45%||59%||+14 pct. points|
|Wireless service provider (Verizon**)||47%||60%||+13 pct. points|
|Sports/energy drink (Gatorade)||51%||62%||+11 pct. points|
|Beer (Coors^)||48%||56%||+8 pct. points|
Subject: What brands do fans think should be NHL sponsors?
To read: 55 percent of NHL fans said they think McDonald's should be an NHL sponsor, compared with 23 percent who think Wendy's should have an NHL deal. Those numbers became 78 percent and 19 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 THE SPONSOR|
|NHL SPONSOR/COMPETITOR||RESPONSE RATES||DIFFERENCE||RESPONSE RATES||DIFFERENCE|
|McDonald's/Wendy's||55% / 23%||+32 pct. points||78% / 19%||+59 pct. points|
|Gatorade/Powerade||44% / 17%||+27 pct. points||73% / 19%||+54 pct. points|
|Visa*/MasterCard||52% / 33%||+19 pct. points||65% / 33%||+32 pct. points|
|Verizon**/AT&T||48% / 36%||+12 pct. points||60% / 30%||+30 pct. points|
|Bridgestone/Michelin||24% / 28%||-4 pct. points||45% / 17%||+28 pct. points|
|Geico/Allstate||39% / 31%||+8 pct. points||53% / 31%||+22 pct. points|
|Pepsi/Coca-Cola||45% / 59%||-14 pct. points||63% / 51%||+12 pct. points|
|Honda/Ford||28% / 38%||-10 pct. points||50% / 41%||+9 pct. points|
|Coors^/Anheuser-Busch||19% / 30%||-11 pct. points||31% / 30%||+1 pct. points|
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.
* Visa holds the category rights in Canada; Discover is the NHL's U.S. sponsor in the category.
** Verizon holds the category rights in the United States; Bell Canada is the NHL's Canada sponsor in the category.
^ 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.
Which of the following is an official sponsor of the NHL?
|I’m not sure||29.1%||50.0%||34.2%||42.3%||54.2%||45.9%|
Gatorade was the most recognized brand in our study among NHL fans for the third consecutive year. The PepsiCo brand received exposure during the 2013-14 season via its sponsorship of the TV series “NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other,” which featured players who were competing in the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic and Sochi Olympics. Pittsburgh Penguins star and Gatorade spokesman Sidney Crosby also was highlighted in a commercial titled “Decisions” that debuted during the Winter Classic.
|I’m not sure||34.7%||53.0%||29.2%||46.8%||58.2%||49.0%|
Geico, a league sponsor since 2010, aired a series of commercials throughout the playoffs featuring rivalries between NHL fans. The company added exposure through a presenting sponsorship of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic that saw its logo placed on the ice and on the rink’s dasherboard. Also at the Winter Classic, Geico offered fans the chance to win a $200 gas card and get their picture taken with the Geico gecko mascot at the company’s interactive booth.
|I’m not sure||30.2%||47.5%||32.2%||44.8%||58.7%||46.9%|
Verizon and the NHL Players’ Association this past season launched “NHLPA Insider powered by Verizon,” a video series that used footage recorded by NHL players on their tablet devices. The videos were available on Verizon’s NHL GameCenter app channel and the NHLPA’s YouTube channel. The deal was the result in part of Verizon having sponsorship rights both with the league (in the United States) and with the players union. (Bell holds the league-level category rights in Canada.) Verizon Wireless tablet and 4G LTE smartphone owners this past season also received free access to the premium-version upgrade of the NHL GameCenter app.
|I’m not sure||24.6%||38.5%||26.2%||45.8%||54.2%||43.8%|
Parent company MillerCoors features Coors Light products in the United States for its NHL activation and Molson brands in Canada. Principal for Coors Light in its visibility this year was the league’s introduction of the four-game outdoor series that was branded as the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. More than 217,000 fans in total attended the four games across New York (two games at Yankee Stadium), Chicago (Soldier Field) and Los Angeles (Dodger Stadium). Coors Light also was the presenting sponsor in the United States of the “NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other” documentary series.
|I’m not sure||36.2%||55.5%||35.1%||42.8%||59.7%||52.6%|
McDonald’s and the NHL Foundation, the league’s charitable arm, pledged $200 per shot on goal during the Chicago-Pittsburgh Stadium Series game at Soldier Field to the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Seventy-two shots on goal were recorded during the contest, for a $14,400 donation. During the men’s hockey tournament at the Sochi Olympics, NHL Network produced a half-hour show called “NHL Tonight: 2014 Sochi Edition” that had McDonald’s as its presenting sponsor.
|I’m not sure||28.1%||43.5%||27.7%||40.8%||57.7%||46.9%|
In a split category for the league between Discover (United States) and Visa (Canada), both rights holders saw slight increases in their recognition numbers among all fans surveyed this year. The league kicked off its national ad campaign for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic during NBC’s broadcast of the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown, a game between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins played the day after Thanksgiving. In advance of the game, Discover released a survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports of 800 hockey fans, with the results showing that 73 percent were planning to watch the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown while 11 percent planned to shop. (Nine percent intended to record the game while they shopped and watch it later.) For Visa, it teamed with fellow NHL partner Tim Hortons to give NHL fans a chance to win six tickets to a Stanley Cup Final game or Visa and Tim Hortons gift cards through the Visa payWave “Pay Faster to Win” Contest.
|I’m not sure||31.7%||46.5%||35.6%||40.8%||53.2%||54.6%|
Pepsi brands have official-sponsor standing with 11 NHL teams in addition to the company’s league-level rights. Pepsi and Little Caesars teamed for a contest tied to the Winter Classic (played this season in Little Caesars’ home market of Detroit) that ran from Nov. 18 until Dec. 16. Contestants who purchased a deep-dish pizza along with a two-liter Pepsi brand soft drink received a code that could to be entered online for a chance to win a grand prize of a trip for two to the Winter Classic. On the team front, Pepsi Center, home of the Colorado Avalanche, was the site of the biggest season-over-season attendance gain for any club in the league, with the Avs’ attendance increasing 5.5 percent this past season during Colorado’s run to the playoffs.
|I’m not sure||34.2%||47.0%||35.1%||45.8%||60.7%||54.1%|
The 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, winner of this year’s SportsBusiness Journal/Daily Sports Business Award for Event of the Year, generated the largest crowd ever to see an NHL game, with a final count of more than 105,000. It also scored the largest TV audience for a regular-season game: The U.S. broadcast on NBC along with the coverage on CBC and RDS in Canada had a combined 8.234 million viewers across North America. More than 12,000 fans visited Bridgestone’s activation space at Michigan Stadium during the game on Jan. 1, with an additional 6,000 fans stopping by the company’s display at Comerica Park during the Winter Festival that preceded the game.
|I’m not sure||32.2%||51.0%||33.7%||54.2%||57.7%||54.1%|
Honda aired ads during NHL TV broadcasts throughout the season supporting the automaker’s “Start Something Special” and “It Starts with You” campaigns. At the conclusion of the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, which aired on NBC Sports Network in the U.S., Honda Canada donated a 2014 Honda CR-V to Make-A-Wish Canada’s Eastern Ontario Chapter. On a team level, Honda drew national attention this season through the Anaheim Ducks, who play their home games at the Honda Center. Anaheim started the 2013-14 season with a 22-game home unbeaten streak, tying the third-longest streak to start a season since 1973-74.
* Official NHL sponsor