A busy week in the hockey world is an understatement. As the NFL focuses on the playoffs, the NHL prepares to return to the ice. Many sports bars and restaurants will be busier on Saturday nights which is good news for MolsonCoors, the NHL beer sponsor. Most fans and businesses especially are pleased to hear the news, as it’s been a struggle to not only stay occupied, but survive economically.
So how has this costly delay altered the strategy of heavyweight sponsorship entities?
Many NHL sponsors and hockey supporters have struggled with where to invest their sponsorship and media dollars. During the lockout, budgets have been idle and in many cases reassigned to other marketing spends and mediums. Unable to utilize their huge asset base during the lockout, heavy weight sponsors like Kraft have shifted their resources and attention to community grassroots programs, and it appears they will not shift their budgets back to NHL hockey anytime soon. Other sponsors will implement their plans immediately. The bigger challenge will be whether or not sponsors can pull together larger scale programs now and or in time for the playoffs, and with the budget and funding reallocations, will they even be able to secure those funds again – now and in the future?
1. Win back the fans. What can the NHL/NHLPA do to win back fans? Formal apologies have been made but that’s expected lip service. Team execs and players need to reach out to fans, season ticket holders and corporate sponsors and provide incentives to smooth things out. Fans want to be heard, continue to be heard and the league and team must LISTEN. Net — to win back fans the NHL and NHLPA have to put an outstanding product on the ice and entertain. Here’s a look at what the Detroit Red Wings are doing.
2. Broadcasters. CBC, TSN and Sportsnet have lost audience viewership due to the lockout resulting in lost revenue from advertising. What has been lost is lost, and it will be tough for the broadcasters and league to recover these eyeballs during the stunted season. To gain audience viewership, the NHL and NHLPA again must put an outstanding product on the ice. The Winter Classic and All-Star events were cancelled so John Collins will have to refocus his efforts to generate buzz for the playoffs. HBO’s successful 24/7 may be moved to follow players leading to the playoffs and during the playoff run. This would be very entertaining.
3. Smaller market teams need to be relevant in their communities. Before the lockout, people had many entertainment options and this presented a challenge. Now teams will have to be extraordinary to win back any fans they have lost.
4. What will sponsors do now and for the playoffs?
• Kraft will be promoting grassroots hockey and will advertise during the broadcasts, but they won’t have a specific hockey message, they will air brand ads only;
• MolsonCoors is scheduled to launch a new ad campaign;
• Scotiabank’s ad spend will be redirected back to hockey – but like Kraft they will focus on a community message vs a hockey specific message;
• Licensed product sales such as jerseys dropped significantly – especially during the busy Holiday season. This will impact Reebok’s bottom line, however sales are expected to pickup once the season starts.
• Equipment manufacturers such as Bauer will be back in business, and their reps will aggressively be visiting teams to get sales back on track.
Despite these unforeseen setbacks, it never ceases to amaze us the bond between man and sport, and we believe the return of the NHL could make way for a stronger, more enthusiastic fan following.
Hockey is our game, and we’ve missed it!