DUDLEY BREAKS THE ICE FOR NHL'S MARKETING;SPORTS VETERAN TAPS POWERFUL SPONSOR ALLIES, GRASS-ROOTS IDEAS TO FIRE UP LEAGUE

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Rick Dudley's career is heating up, right along with the sport he has helped popularize in the U.S.

His reward will be "More pressure. It's the dreaded vote of confidence that things are moving in the right direction," Mr. Dudley said of his promotion to the new post of president at National Hockey League Enterprises, from senior VP-chief operating officer.

TWO PRODUCTIVE YEARS

Mr. Dudley, 43, got his promotion after only two years at the NHL's business and marketing arm, developing and implementing a sponsor-friendly marketing program for the league, as well as helping boost the sport in the U.S. But it hasn't been easy.

"The challenges have more to do with .*.*. correcting and overcoming the impressions that have formed and accumulated over the years," Mr. Dudley said. "But the opportunities here are immense. We are a North American sport but with international appeal."

Among the challenges Mr. Dudley faced was coping with the NHL's 1994 labor dispute.

At the start of the 1994-95 season, the NHL saw an opportunity to piggyback on the phenomenal growth of off-ice hockey. Mr. Dudley had marketers excited about a new sponsorship strategy bringing together 10 to 12 corporate partners committed to taking part in the development effort.

THEN THE LOCKOUT HIT

But then the player lockout hit in the fall of '94, delaying the marketing effort until early 1995.

Mr. Dudley and his troops helped relaunch the season with a smart marketing effort themed "Game on!" but it was obvious the real relaunch of the NHL wouldn't come until the 1995-96 season arrived.

Now that it can be told, the NHL's story is off to a solid start. The marketing allies Mr. Dudley has signed up-including Anheuser-Busch, Campbell Soup Co., Coca-Cola Co., Dodge, Nike and Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp.-are supporting the league with consumer promotions and media buys on ESPN and Fox.

Under Mr. Dudley, NHL Enterprises has also created, in tandem with Nike, a variety of grass-roots programs that aim to tap the growth of off-ice hockey.

BREAKOUT'S EXPANSION

One endeavor, a veritable traveling carnival called BreakOut, was launched last summer and will expand into 16 markets when the second year of the program starts March 31. Coca-Cola, Dodge and Nike are tying in.

Other important initiatives this year will include a massive Stanley Cup playoff promotion involving sponsors and licensees; marketing programs tied to a new animated TV series from Walt Disney Co. based on the company's "Mighty Ducks" movies and NHL team; and an ad push, created in-house, for licensed merchandise featuring the tagline "The coolest gear on Earth," a derivation of its "coolest game" promotional handle.

Mr. Dudley arrived at the NHL armed with experience from two other pro leagues. He spent three years at Major League Baseball Properties and, before that, nine years with National Football League Properties.

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