NHL'S NEW MARKETING MANTRA: 'IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CUP'

Stanley Trophy Scores Big in Sponsorship Revenue

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Stanley Cup -- the most recognizable trophy in sports -- has also become the National Hockey League's most valued marketing asset.

First presented as a sports award in 1893, the Cup was never used as

Photo: AP
The Stanley Cup was performing commercial duties May 21 on a display table in the Sears department store in Cerritos, Calif.
a marketing tool until Ed Horne, president of NHL Enterprises, came on board in 1994 after a stint with the National Football League.

'Majesty and uniqueness'
"Really, over the last five to six years is where we've begun to allow [corporate] partners to use the ... Cup a little more broadly," Mr. Horne said. "People have understood the majesty of the Cup but also the uniqueness of it."

Indeed, since the National Hockey League playoffs began April 9, the venerable Stanley Cup has proven to be an ever-more potent branding tool and sponsorship revenue generator. No fewer than nine of the NHL's 20 corporate sponsors used the current playoffs to roll out thematic advertising, from Southwest Airlines' sponsorship of a Cup Tour to Sears' promotion in which a fan can bring the Cup home for a day to MasterCard International's "Keeper of the Cup" campaign.

Traveling guardian
MasterCard, which has aggressively sought to leverage its Major League Basesball sponsorship, last year unveiled a hockey campaign from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson

Photo: AP
Raising the Stanley Cup to victory, New York Islanders' captain Dennis Potvin celebrates his team's 1983 championship win.
Worldwide, New York. It features real-life NHL employee Phil Pritchard, who safeguards the Stanley Cup whenever it travels outside of its Toronto home.

"We've done advertising and some local things and we had a presence at the All-Star game, but in terms of more of a large-scale national promotion, this is the first time we've been in market with the NHL," said Marc Levy, a MasterCard spokesman. "It's one of the first big things we've done."

Even the NHL unveiled a new TV campaign, from NHL Productions and Toronto-based agency Grip Limited, that featured singer Avril Lavigne and the tagline "It's All About The Cup."

$400 million in ad revenue
The Cup campaigns will run through the end of the playoffs and the finals are slated to begin May 27. According to Nielsen Media Research figures on ad expenditures by sport, the NHL this year saw ad revenue of $400 million, up from $350 million last year. That figure is comparable to Major League Baseball, which also generated ad revenue in the $400 million range, but lags well behind the National Football League's $2 billion take.

Like the ubiquitous golden arches of McDonald's or Nike's swoosh, the Stanley Cup is a brand identifier all to itself. At 110 years old, it is one of the oldest trophies in sports behind those given out for the Kentucky

Photo: AP
Last week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty partnered with the Stanley Cup for a photo op in the state capital.
Derby horse race and the America's Cup sailing event.

An American icon
The Cup is literally given white-glove treatment. It is the only trophy in sports in which every winning player and team management member gets to take the Cup home for a day to share with family and friends. The Stanley Cup has been to the White House, Red Square in Moscow, on the Late Show with David Letterman and even used as a baptismal font for the newborn child of a player.

"No other sports league is really able to brand its trophy like that," said David Carter, president of the Sports Business Group in Los Angeles. "True sports fans are probably aware that the [NFL's] Super Bowl, for instance, has the Lombardi Trophy. But casual fans, even non-fans, are very aware of the Stanley Cup."

$6.2 million for charity
Mr. Horne said he is careful how the Cup is used, often intertwining promotions with charitable events that have raised $6.2 million in the last five years.

"We always walk a fine line," he said. "On the one hand, it's a trophy that deserves great respect and we make sure we give it that treatment it deserves. On the other hand, it's a terrific marketing tool."

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