The NHL continues to build on its robust marketing calendar and the brand partner support behind the events, like this weekend’s Stadium Series.
Saturday’s game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field will be the league’s 26th outdoor game since 2008, which has provided brand partners a unique way to connect with fans, said Evin Dobson, NHL Group vice president of partnership marketing. This year’s Stadium Series will have 16 activating sponsors, up from 10 last year, at the PreGame festivities.
“Franchises like the Winter Classic and Stadium Series offer built-in collaboration and support with prominent league partners,” Dobson said. “They celebrate the nostalgia and take fans back to the sport’s roots of playing on frozen ponds and rivers — and the partners rally behind them as marketing platforms and touch the fans in ways not normally available.”
Part of this year’s activating partner growth is based on the overall growth of partnerships, as the league has added eight in the past 10 months.
“Looking at this year’s cast of partners, there’s a strong presence from the heavy activators that always show up and support,” Dobson said. “Then this year, there’s a couple new ones activating and reinforcing that these jewel events are a great moment to associate themselves with.”
The Stadium Series title sponsor Coors Light will continue its activation, led by a responsibility station, promoting responsible drinking. There also will be its upcycled bar, which is made with used products including hockey pucks, sticks, nets and skate blades. Behind it are guest bartenders passing out Silver Bullets, including former Flyers star Jeremy Roenick.
Coors Light will also be one of several sponsors with “stick-in-hand” activations, allowing fans to practice their hockey skills.
Likewise, other established brand partners like Honda, Geico, Kraft-Heinz, Pepsi and Dunkin’ will be on site with activations. Others with stick activations include MassMutual’s hardest shot, New Amsterdam Vodka’s Bullseye Battle and NHL Network’s Target Practice into a stacked washer and dryer.
New partners, like Jagermeister, which is the official shot partner, will have its Shots on Goal tent, which includes a custom hockey shot stick — much like the shot skis seen in bars across the country. The cold factor of the outdoor game plays well into the optimum chilled temperature of a Jagermeister shot, Dobson said, making it a playful partner.
Additionally, fellow new partner MGM Resorts will be hosting a luxury tailgating experience, which allows fans a reprieve from the cold in a “relaxing and inviting space” with games and giveaways.
Navy Federal Credit Union joins as the Official Military Appreciation Partner, also with a stick-in-hand activation and thematic highlights during the game.
The NHL has continued to grow its partnership roster, but the strategy is not about the number, Dobson said. It is now pushing 40 partners overall in the U.S. and Canada, and the league’s partners are beginning to grab hold of the calendar of events. As Dobson said, many like to work six months or more in advance on plans for destination-based marketing platforms, programming promotions and engaging local constituencies.
The robust marketing calendar helps make the NHL a nearly year-round league, a macro business decision made more than a decade ago to help broaden and the partnerships, Dobson said.
Along with the partnership activation growth at the Stadium Series, the activation extensions are building across the board, like at the All-Star Game, which grew from 17 to 23 partnership activations this year in San Jose.
Right now, Dobson believes the growing number of strong brand partnerships signifies the strength of the NHL business.
“We focus on category exclusive rights that are delivering value and not diluting over time,” Dobson said. “We’re not focused on numbers. As long as partners give us positive feedback, we don’t think we have an over-saturation.”