Labatt pulls off NHL broadcast sponsorship

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TORONTO -- Canadian beer marketer Labatt Breweries has reached a four-year deal as the title sponsor of National Hockey League games televised by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Earlier this summer rival Molson Breweries lost its bid to renew its long-standing package of both NHL broadcast and sponsorship rights for the 1998-99 season and beyond. Molson spent nine months negotiating and bid more than $216 million for a five-year deal, which the league turned down because it wanted greater control.

"We weren't interested in the whole package," says Labatt spokesman Bob Chant. "What we bought is the title rights and the airtime that comes with that. We get a number of commercials. . . a significant amount of media weight on the programming."

Labatt's $40 million sponsorship starts with the 1998-99 season and the marketer will use the title role to promote its Labatt Blue brand, Canada's No. 1 beer.

"We're investing in the great Canadian tradition of hockey," says Mr. Chant. "We hope to realize a significant return on the investment by growing the interest in hockey right across the country."

Labatt is dubbing the sponsorship "one more win" as it catches up with Molson, which is slightly ahead with a 46.7% share of the Canadian beer market.

Under a new broadcast deal between the league and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the Canadian network will continue its national "Hockey Night in Canada" broadcasts every Saturday night.

Both the sponsorship deal and the broadcast rights cover the network's English-language hockey telecasts.

Copyright November 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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