Seeks High-Profile Brand Exposure in Entertainment Projects

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LOS ANGELES -- The National Hockey League, still trying to re-work its image after a debilitating season-long strike, has signed a deal with the William Morris Agency to get its teams and players woven into entertainment projects.
Photo: AP
The NHL, which had a shaky start in the fall to its new season, has been buffing its public image after a labor dispute shut down play for the entire 2004-05 season.

The move shows the continued clout of Hollywood talent agencies, which represent marketers like Coca-Cola Co., American Express and Verizon Wireless, and the interest from advertisers in cozying up to the entertainment world.

Other teams

The NHL won’t be the only professional sports team doing business with William Morris. The talent agency’s marketing division represents the National Football League and the U.K.’s Chelsey Football Club professional soccer team. The agreement with the NHL is among several deals the agency has recently signed.

New clients 24 Hour Fitness, the Quiznos sandwich chain and online job resource Monster.com join Anheuser-Busch, General Motors Corp., Hilton Hotels and Amp’d Mobile as William Morris’ corporate clients.

The NHL, which had a shaky start in the fall to its new season, has been buffing its public image after a labor dispute shut down play for the entire 2004-05 season. The league adopted new rules to make the game more exciting, but struggled in the fall to get fans to return to the games.


ESPN, which had televised the NHL for 12 years and was its most visible TV partner in the U.S., declined to renew its option. The NHL signed a two-year, $135 million deal with Comcast’s Outdoor Life Network, a low-profile cable channel with an audience about a third the size of ESPN’s.

Ed Horne, president of NHL Enterprises, said the league has steadily lured back its core fans, "but we need to expand our base and make sure we're as aggressive as possible in exposing people to the game."

While the agreement with William Morris is fresh -- a few initial planning meetings have taken place -- it's intended to forge relationships with film studios, production companies, celebrities and other Hollywood insiders, Mr. Horn said. "We're looking at entertainment in the broadest sense," he said.

Agents at William Morris, who now represent about two dozen marketers, will look for ways to get the NHL and its players in front of consumers as part of pop culture and entertainment. That could include using the NHL as a backdrop for scripted or unscripted TV programming, as the subject of documentaries or short films, or as the source of Web or wireless content.

Other new clients

William Morris client Quiznos has appeared in several recent episodes of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Quiznos is running a national contest through the popular daytime TV talk show that will give away a franchise to the winner.

Ms. DeGeneres recently called the Quiznos CEO during her show and asked if he would consider giving another franchise to someone in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, her hometown.

Quiznos CEO Rick Schaden said during that phone call that he would make it happen.

Meanwhile, 24 Hour Fitness has enjoyed success as a prominent sponsor of the hit reality series “The Biggest Loser” on NBC.
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