CHL: Where Large and Small Sponsors Meet In Support of Hockey
While much of the hockey world has focused their attention on the start of the NHL season, the Canadian Hockey League season has been underway for two weeks. With 60 teams from across the country competing in the CHL’s member leagues (Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) and many of those teams being the top draw in their local market, the CHL provides brands with an effective entry point into many Canadian communities.
And just like the large variance in market size across the CHL, with home teams playing in major markets like Vancouver in addition to smaller markets like Bathurst, New Brunswick, the CHL also attracts a wide variety of corporate partners that come in all shapes and sizes.
When examining the London Knights sponsorship roster, it's revealed that they display a mix of large national brands and local London brands - a dynamic commonly found with many CHL teams. The London Knights have attracted large national brands like Jack Daniels and McDonald’s as well as a local London sports equipment store, Pete’s Sports.
The national/local mix of the sponsor varies across CHL teams. While teams like London attract many large-scale partners, smaller clubs like Owen Sound or Belleville may provide less relevance. Factors that contribute to how local or national a CHL team’s sponsor roster can be may include:
Market Size: Larger markets like London, Windsor, Vancouver or Edmonton are more likely to attract investment from larger brands looking to have a presence in key markets.
Prestige: The history of the franchise can also be a factor on the attractiveness of a property to national brands. The London Knights have won multiple OHL championships and Memorial Cups and have sent a number of notable players to the NHL. Their sustained success can make the Knights more of a target for larger brands who are looking for a team with a consistent national presence.
Benefits of Mixing Local and National Brands:
For larger corporate partners who would typically see their brand come to life on larger stages alongside other national brands, it can be a shift to see local “mom and pop” brands as co-sponsors. However, there are some inherent benefits to this reality:
Increased Local Relevance: CHL teams are a staple of their local community. In addition to achieving local relevance from sponsorship of a CHL team, a large brand can also see their brand humanized by appearing alongside some of the community local brands. While a brand can demonstrate their community involvement through sponsorship of a professional team, a CHL team can provide a direct link to a local community.
Low Cost of Entry for Franchisee / Dealer Groups: The CHL is an attractive property for brands that have both a national presence and a local relevance in smaller markets. For businesses that operate on a franchisee or dealer based model and believe in the value of sponsorship marketing, CHL teams may be a strategic option to leverage sponsorship when priced out of larger national properties.
Key Considerations: When Big and Small Don’t Mix
While the combinations of large and small sponsors is inherently part of the CHL brand experience, there may be moments when it is best for the property to adopt a “fewer, bigger, better” approach and align with a select number of larger sponsors. For top brands looking to invest in the CHL but looking to avoid the clutter and presence of small sponsors, focus areas may include:
Crown Jewel Events: CHL events like the Memorial Cup or Canada Russia Series provide a time on the CHL calendar where a limited number of top brands invest. These particular events command a smaller roster of top brands like MasterCard, Rogers, Tim Hortons, and Gatorade. With a national broadcast and peak awareness, these events provide greater reach than a typical CHL team sponsorship and tend to exclude local partners.
Marquee Assets: Brands can break through the clutter of large and small partners while still investing at the team level by securing major assets that allow them to rise to the top. For example, brands like Budweiser (London), Powerade (Brampton), and Hershey (Mississauga) are able gain a deep association with OHL clubs through a naming rights deal.
Why Do Co-Sponsors Matter In the First Place?
Sponsorship is ultimately an expression of brand values - and one of the primary reasons that brands choose to invest is to gain a transfer of brand attributes from a sponsored property onto their own organization. Co-sponsors who both associate with the same property, be it a CHL team, a fashion show, or celebrity endorser, share common ground. Opportunities can occur from co-sponsors working together:
Brand Transference: Larger properties like the Olympics through their TOP Programme exclusively attract prestigious international brands. Joining this group allows a new sponsor to assume some of the qualities of their co-sponsors. Appearing alongside a local business may allow a national brand to appear more “in-touch” with a local market and smaller brands may be perceived as having a larger profile by appearing alongside national brands.
Networking Opportunities: When brands share sponsorship of a common property, marketers find common ground and often find themselves at similar games or property-related events. The Boston Celtics have even encouraged their sponsors to network through initiatives like a B2B Network for premium club members and corporate partners, a mobile app designed for partners to see which other sponsors are present at TD Garden events and a “LinkedIn Lounge” in the TD Garden allowing sponsors to meet during games. Networking through a shared sponsorship may lead to business relationships that evolve into a strategic partnership.
Shared Activation: Brands can find value in working together with their co-sponsors on programming. During the Olympics VISA teamed up with P&G on their “Proud Sponsor of Moms” campaign. VISA and P&G distributed VISA prepaid gift cards worth $1,000 to all moms of Olympics athletes to assist them with their travel to the games. While sacrificing some ownership, partnering on an activation allows for a lowered financial burden and extended reach.
With its unique roster of sponsors that include both national and local brands, the CHL sticks out when compared to other sports properties in Canada. Regardless of where a sponsor lies on the continuum from local business to national brand, all must consider how they fit and interact with their co-sponsors.