Hockey, Credit Cards and Doughnuts…Smells Like Revenue Dollars To Me

Last month I wrote on this site about how the NHL has a chance to increase both their viewership and advertising dollars as a result of the current NBA lockout. It looks as if they are taking steps in that direction.

Recently the league has announced that they have teamed up with the Canadian based fast-food favorite Tim Horton’s and the well known credit card company Discover as title sponsors for two major events this hockey season.

This season’s All-Star game, held January 29 in Ottawa, will be known as “The 2012 Tim Horton’s NHL All-Star Game.”

In an attempt to build off the success of the annual Winter Classic game, which has become a New Year’s day staple, the NHL has renewed a multi-year deal with Discover to present a marquee game around the Thanksgiving holiday. This game will be played the Friday following Thanksgiving and will be titled “The Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown.” The game will feature an Original Six match-up between the Detroit Red Wings and the defending Stanley Cup champions Boston Bruins.

The game will be aired on NBC and will start-off the network’s coverage of NHL games for the 2011-2012 season. This will mark the earliest the league will be broadcasted on a network since NBC acquired hockey broadcast rights in 2005. Before now, the league usually didn’t start their network broadcasts until the Winter Classic. Another feather in the cap for the NHL.

It is a smart move on the leagues part to not try and go up against the NFL on the actual Thursday of Thanksgiving. However, hockey will be making an apparance of sorts that day as the NHL and Discover will help promote the game by debuting a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. An estimated 50 million viewers are expected to watch the parade as the NHL/Discover float rolls down the New York parade route.

The parade float, dubbed “Frozen Fall Fun”, will include past NHL stars, a synthetic ice rink, colorful fall colors and a 12-foot tall turkey. Grammy award winning musician Cee-Lo Green will perform live on the float. the float will be 36-feet long by 20-feet wide.

“We are looking to build an entirely new platform around Thanksgiving and have it include not only a game broadcast but something more,” said David Lehanski, the NHL’s group vice president of integrated sales, in a released statement. “To be a part of that for hockey is great.”

It is not so unreasonable a thought for the NHL to make room for themselves around a time of year that is usually thought of as another sports strict territory. The Winter Classic is a classic example of this. New Year’s Day was traditionally thought of as a day for college football bowl games. Now, after only a few years, the NHL’s annual outdoor game has made itself a must-see event every first of the year.

“We’re proud to work with our partners at the NHL and participate in some of America’s favorite holiday traditions, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and watching a great hockey matchup on NBC,” Jennifer Murillo, the vice president of brand communications for Discover, said.

Through the agreement, Discover will remain the official card of the NHL, the Winter Classic, the NHL Draft, All-Star weekend and the NHL awards.

Tim Horton, pictured above at age 44, played 26 seasons in the NHL (Sports Illustrated)

Tim Horton’s has, what some would consider, a deep connection with the NHL. Tim Horton, the man and co-founder, was an NHL defenseman from 1949 until his death in 1974 after a car accident. Horton played for Toronto, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the New York Rangers. Horton helped found the the beloved doughnut shop in 1964 while he was playing with the Maple Leafs.

Is all of this an attempt by the NHL to take advantage of a competing league that currently has their doors shut, or was this in the works long before? No one knows that besides the NHL suits in Toronto. Credit has to be given to the league for making these strides for a bigger audience, regardless of timing.

Some may not like the fact of corporate sponsorships, I know it’s not one of my favorite things, but the fact is that it generates money. Money that is put towards events such as this new Thanksgiving game and other outreach efforts. If having a fast-fodd chain’s name on an All-Star logo means the NHL will be a stronger, more popular league, then so be it. The great majority, if not all, of All-Star logos are quickly forgotten about after the event is over anyways. Honestly, without looking, can you tell me what last year’s All-Star logo looked like? “I bet it had a star in it,” would be your best guess.

I applaude the NHL. As the rival NBA makes headlines by canceling games week-by-week, the NHL is only generating positive press by promoting their own events. As long as the corporate logos stay off the actual game jerseys (several teams have corporate sponsor logos on their practice jerseys), I say have at it NHL. Make your money. Grow your league. Beat them ballers. Just don’t turn turn our beloved hockey sweaters into some bastardized version of a soccer kit.

Michael Viola
Michael writes on the business of hockey and how it impacts the fan's enjoyment of the game. He is a PR and Marketing professional with a background in journalism and a love for hockey.

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