MKTG Insights: Relevance, Reach and Region Drive Value for World Junior Sponsors
In Canadian homes, the Holiday Season means more than cold weather and gift giving. It means the return of World Junior Hockey and a chance for Canadians to win hockey gold. The yearly showcase of future hockey superstars garners mainstream recognition and fandom in a way that few marquee events across the country are able to, appealing to the avid and casual fan. For brands invested in Hockey Canada and the World Junior’s, a tournament sponsorship provides a mass audience that in addition to being inspired and engaged, is watching in record numbers. Hockey Canada sponsors receive many opportunities to engage their target market over the course of the year. but none is bigger that the World Juniors.
Overnight data after this week’s Gold Medal Game between Canada and Russia indicated an average viewing audience of 7.1 million Canadians with the audience peaking at upwards of 9.7 million in the game’s final moments – a 6% increase over the previously most-watched game in World Junior history (2011 Canada-Russia Final).
How does a Canadian roster of largely unknown players, participating in a tournament in which they would outscore their opponent by more than an average of 4 goals per game turn into a record-setting broadcast draw and a top-tier sponsorship platform for investing brands? As Canada celebrates its first World Junior Gold medal since 2009, MKTG provides a snapshot of the tournament's growing appeal to sponsors and an overview of how some of Hockey Canada’s top partners benefited from the three of the WJHC's primary value proposition to sponsors: relevance, reach, and region.
Sponsors are constantly in search of a property that can be leveraged to demonstrate their overall brand promise and organizational values. The World Junior Hockey Championships, and inherently a sponsorship of “Team Canada”, provide a very natural platform for sponsors to showcase their patriotism in an attempt to been seen as a brand that understands Canadians in the eyes of consumers. Outside of Olympic cycle years, there is no amateur sport property in which a Canadian National team competes that galvanizes fans the way that the WJHC does. For sponsors who wrap themselves in the flag with a very nationalistic thematic, the World Juniors are a strategic addition to their portfolio. Beyond the elements of Canadiana, the tournament has long been positioned as family oriented programming. The December/January broadcast allows for shared viewing experiences with families over statutory holidays and school / office closures. Further, TSN’s tournament coverage largely emphasizes a “How Did They Get Here” storyline that features parents, families, and minor hockey coaches – a storyline that is relatable to mass Canada and a key source of where Canada’s affinity for the tournament stems from. With the exception of endemic and Premier Partner Nike, the overwhelming majority of sponsors tap into a Canadian/community-centric narrative in their activations. Notably, Hockey Canada sponsor Canadian Tire Corporation (MKTG Client) would be a prime example of a brand tapping into the relevance of the property.
In the week prior to the start of the WJHC, Canadian Tire launched a joint initiative between Jumpstart Charities and the Hockey Canada Foundation called "The Big Play" (video below). The brand committed to bringing 10,000 kids per year into the game of hockey over the next three years and made contributions to the local JumpStart chapter of all Junior Team players. The cross-pollination of cause and sport - particularly surrounding grassroots hockey - is relevant and aligned to the WJHC.
TSN has been the broadcast home of the World Juniors since 1991. Over time, TSN has evolved the tournament from a fringe broadcast property into a mainstream entity, extending the windows of the event through selection camp coverage, exhibition games, pre- and post-game analysis, and intensive game coverage. Heightened coverage and emphasis has ensued in 2014/2015 in the wake of TSN losing the NHL’s National Broadcast rights to Rogers Communications as the network leveraged the WJHC in order to maintain their equity and thought-leadership in hockey. The TSN partnership gives sponsors a mass audience from coast to coast. More than half of the country’s population (19.4 million) watched some or all of TSN wall-to-wall coverage throughout the tournament and every single one of Team Canada’s hockey games ranked as the most watched program of the day it aired. The draw of the property was on display even in games that Canada did not participate in. USA vs. Finland game had an average audience of 1.23 million - 200,000 more than the previous week's Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. The WJHC is rare in that it provides sponsors with a true chance to "speak to the nation".
The Bell / TSN coverage provides sponsors with amplification opportunities through Bell digital properties where live streaming and social media aid in engaging highly sought after millennial fans. Sponsors like Sport Chek, Chevrolet, and Crown Royal all complemented their partnerships with compelling broadcast integrations.
A key element in a sponsor’s ability to drive value from their WJHC sponsorship hinges on the host country in a given year. The tournament experiences large variances in viewership and attendance when it is played outside of North America, due to the impact of time zones, less avid hockey markets, and smaller arenas. The tournament draws significantly higher attendance figures when hosted in Canada (see chart below).
This year's attendance in Toronto and Montreal doubled the attendance from last year's tournament which was hosted in Sweden. Beyond 2015, the IIHF has elected to have the tournament hosted in Canada every second year, a decision that will drive increased value for long-term Hockey Canada sponsors. With four of the next six tournaments hosted in North America, sponsors can count on more eyeballs and buzz surrounding the event. In addition to larger viewing audiences, North American hosted tournaments will provide sponsors with in-arena activation opportunities that are often not worth the investment for events hosted overseas, especially in the case of sponsors with a strictly domestic presence (the majority of Hockey Canada partners).
Activation activity was heightened at this year's event due to the presence of the McDonald’s Fan Zone, which ran from Dec. 26th-31st in Montreal and Jan. 2nd-5th in Toronto in high-traffic locations. The off-ice festival featured activations from a number of sponsors including RBC, Telus, Hankook, Chevrolet, Molson, and others. The execution of value-add experiences like fan festivals benefit from domestic hosting in that the property's ability to be activated improves volumes. In foreign markets, on-site activation activity limited to IIHF sponsors and the host region hockey assocation's governing body.
Considerations for Current Sponsors:
With the WJHC to be hosted in Canada every other year, it is likely that we will continue to see sponsor interest in the property rise, contributing perhaps to even more clutter in a property that has an already large sponsor roster. World Junior Sponsors must continue to innovate in their approach. The property's appeal is and value is meaningless unless approached with a sound strategy that aligns the usage of the property to brand and business objectives. Considerations for WJHC sponsors include:
1. Plan and Prepare For Overseas Hosted Tournaments: Sponsors can glean insights and best practices from sponsors of other touring properties. Marquee global games like the World Cup and Olympics inspire significant activation activity outside the current host's market. In today's digital age and interconnected world, brands can add value to fans from anywhere at anytime.
2. Compliment sponsorship With Additional Properties / Causes: With an increasingly crowded landscape, WJHC sponsors can seek to differentiate by introducing other sponsored properties or cause-based initiatives into their WJHC narrative (ie: ambassadors, Team Canada alumni, etc.)
3. Extend Engagement Window for Fans and Consumers: Brands can yield greater value by building shoulders around their activation. Limiting messaging to the 10-day window of the tournament takes place in may limit breakthrough.