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5 Sponsorship Takeaways from the World Cup of Hockey

5 Sponsorship Takeaways from the World Cup of Hockey

6 minute read

  • As the NHL’s latest crown jewel event, the World Cup of Hockey was a successful tournament for both fans and sponsors of the NHL gaining significant Canadian viewership
  • The World Cup of Hockey was used as a testing ground for a number of new features that could be included into regular season NHL games such as digital rink-boards and jersey sponsorship
  • The inclusion of Team North America providedthe NHL with a platform to market the future stars of the league and provide them with increased exposure 

The World Cup of Hockey has wrapped up with Team Canada winning the championship over Team Europe. Being the first edition of the tournament in twelve years, there were plenty of questions going into the tournament. However, despite the long break, the NHL was able to pull off a successful international tournament and create excitement ahead of the NHL regular season. There were over 1.55 million Canadians tuning in to see Canada’s first game versus the Czech Republic. The game achieved a higher rating than other sporting events that weekend including CFL, NFL, and the Toronto Blue Jays games. The tournament showcased the best the NHL has to offer, and presented a number of notable learnings for sponsors that can be taken from the event. MKTG breaks downs five key takeaways for the sponsorship industry coming out of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. 

# 1

Young Superstar Talent and Future Endorsers were on Display

More often than not at a major international tournament, the attention and marketing is focused solely on the game’s more established stars. However, with the inclusion of the North American Under-24 team at this year’s World Cup of Hockey, this was not the case. Comprised exclusively of young talent, Team North America was able to generate excitement among fans for the future of the league. Back-to-back first-overall draft picks Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were heavily profiled in the media and were able to fuel anticipation for their upcoming seasons with their play on the ice. Historically, the NHL has not been as successful as other leagues like the NBA at marketing the individual superstars. Hockey culture traditionally has players deflect individual attention to the team, however the North American team allowed for more personality from the younger players. For brands evaluating the next wave of endorsers, it was a good opportunity to see how they handled themselves on the big stage. Despite Team North America not making it past the group stage, the team’s success was one of the most exciting stories of the tournament. The NHL has not committed to including a North American team in the next World Cup of Hockey, as they intend to open the tournament to other qualifying nations. Regardless of the future of the team, the tournament proved successful in increasing the marketing value of the NHL’s young stars.


Rinkboards 2.0 Provide Opportunity for Messaging, Brand Dominance

The World Cup of Hockey allowed the NHL to test a number of features that could soon be adopted into NHL regular season games. During games, broadcasters were able to digitally overlay sponsor messages over the static in-arena rinkboards to provide a full take-over for brands. Broadcasters alternated sponsors throughout the game, ensuring multiple brands had the opportunity for rinkboard dominance. This allowed for more targeted messaging, as country broadcast feeds featured different branding. For example, during the Canada vs United States match-up, Canadian broadcasters were able to display different sponsors than American broadcasters. Although the digital rinkboards will not be included in the upcoming NHL season, as the technology is expanded across other facilities, they will likely be on the table for future seasons. 


The NHL Experiments with Jersey Sponsorship

The NHL experimented with jersey sponsorship during the World Cup of Hockey when they sold shoulder space to technology company, SAP. Jersey sponsorship is generally a contentious issue among fans who value the nostalgia and history associated with their team’s sweater. By introducing branded patches on newly designed jerseys, instead of existing jerseys that are associated with the history of the team, the risk for backlash was minimized. The NHL also benefited from the strategic placement of the patches – placing them in an unobtrusive location on the shoulder, as opposed to the front of the jersey. With the World Cup of Hockey wrapped up, the NHL will likely evaluate both fan reaction and the commercial opportunity to regular season jersey patches in order to determine their approach to jersey sponsorship in the future. 


Launch of Tech Summit Helps NHL Show Thought-Leadership


As professional sports leagues seek to remain current, they have to continuously incorporate new technology in order to enhance the overall fan experience. The NBA is considered a leader in this space, hosting an annual technology summit at the NBA All-Star weekend highlighting new and emerging technology. Similarly, at this year’s World Cup of Hockey, the NHL held the World Cup of Hockey Innovation Summit with new technology partner, SAP. SAP recently signed-on as an NHL sponsor and committed to assist the NHL with enhanced stats, providing deeper analytics for fans. The Innovation Summit covered topics including on-ice technology and player-tracking which was featured during broadcasts for the World Cup. The Summit also highlighted how the broadcast experience will likely evolve, and how sports content will be delivered to fans in the future. The new Innovation Summit allowed the NHL to monitor upcoming tech that can be utilized by the league in the future to create new sponsorable assets. Additionally, with SAP as the presenting partner of this event, the brand was able to demonstrate their thought-leadership in the tech space. 


Olympic Sponsors Have Their Eyes on South Korea

With the participation of NHL players at the upcoming Olympics under ongoing negotiations, many people saw the World Cup of Hockey as a potential alternative for the NHL to showcase its players at an international development. While there is still much to be decided, the ongoing decision has implications for sponsorships of the World Cup of Hockey, the Olympics, and National Sports Organizations (incl. Hockey Canada, USA Hockey). If the NHL were to withdraw from the Olympics, brands who heavily activate against hockey during the Olympics may see decreased fan interest that is more comparable to the World Juniors vs. Olympic Hockey. On the contrary, the NHL would be able to position the World Cup of Hockey as the most prestigious competition for international hockey. The impending decision has the potential to impact the portfolio strategies of a number of sponsors as brands and properties are likely to engage in scenario planning during the coming months. 

The World Cup of Hockey brought together the best hockey players in the world in order to represent their respective countries. For both fans and sponsors of the World Cup of Hockey, the tournament was seen as a tremendous success and the NHL will likely look to continue the tournament as it quickly established itself as a staple in their growing list of crown jewel properties.

Bryce Harper & Gatorade

Drew Brees & Pepsi