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Slapshot marketing

In the climactic scene of the best sports movie ever made, "Slapshot," directed by George Roy Hill, a winger on the luckless minor league Chiefs (Michael Ontkean) strips down to his jockstrap and skates around the rink demonstrating how absurd the world of professional sports can be. Well, the American Hockey League has just been stripped down to its jockstrap, so to speak. The NHL's minor league recently lost its coveted Morgan Stanley Dean Witter sponsorship, which supported nine East Coast teams last year. The league is in 27 markets across the U.S. and Canada, and most of the teams, including the Hershey Bears and the Manitoba Moose, are sponsored by local banks and hockey-equipment suppliers. But in the lucrative Northeast market, the AHL is on the hunt for a marketing partner to fill Morgan Stanley's shoes-or skates, as it were. Although the AHL is a more sophisticated organization than the brutal minor league in "Slapshot," it still shares some of the old-time hockey charm. According to AHL spokesman Brett Stothart, AHL teams travel by bus. "They drive for days, show up at a rink, kick each other's butts, and then get on the bus again for another 12-hour trip to another rink."

The AHL All Star game, which takes place in February, is one of the league's premium events designed to attract new fans and advertisers. Will it take place in the Northeast U.S., where the next Morgan Stanley might be watching?

Not even close. Think Newfoundland, up in iceberg country, many cold miles from Wall Street, and home to the St John's Maple Leafs. "It's good hockey weather," says Chris Nikolis, VP-sales, AHL. Will players have to take the bus? (The car ferry itself from Nova Scotia takes six-hours.) No, says Mr. Nikolis. The AHL is chartering a plane from Hartford, Conn. Tickets for the February 14th game went on sale last week. "And we still have some advertiser openings," Mr. Nikolis says, "but they are going fast."

Seoul oh!

Trying to sell cars is tough these days, but quick-thinking marketers at troubled Daewoo Motor America have devised-and scrapped-a plan to spur December sales. According to execs close to Daewoo, the car maker was considering offering single round-trip tickets to Seoul, South Korea, with the purchase of any Daewoo model. No overnight accommodations, just the plane ride; you are on your own, literally. Will DaimlerChrysler up the ante with its own free solo trips to Stuttgart? Let's just hope Ford doesn't get any ideas about Dearborn junkets.

Read my bellybutton

The beleaguered Levi Strauss & Co. is moving a portion of its publicity functions to New York from San Francisco, a company spokesman said. Will the rest of the company's marketing, specifically its advertising duties, follow? The move of Robert Hanson, former president of Levi's brand for Europe to president of Levi's North America business has spurred speculation he would look at Levi's European shop, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, with its New York office. Other Levi watchers note Omnicom's BBDO has continued to weave its relationship with Levi's execs since it lost the pitch for the business in 1998.

Levi's shop TBWA/ Chiat/Day, San Francisco, says all goes well, but others acknowledge the relationship has been difficult. A spokesman for Levi Strauss said there was no review and would let Adages know when there is something to report.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo and Jean Halliday

Slap your best shots at rlinnett@crain.com

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