The NHL today will launch a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign-involving all its teams, key corporate sponsors and "Wayne's World" hockey fans Wayne and Garth-to woo back fans. Also this week, the NHL will resume talks with prospective sponsors about deals that would include pledges to buy media during this season's Fox and ESPN telecasts.
NHL team owners and players ended their labor squabble, and salvaged the season, last week with a six-year collective bargaining agreement. On Jan. 20, the NHL will begin a 48-game season with full playoffs that will end no later than July 1. The season has been cut roughly in half by the lockout that began Oct. 11.
"The challenge [now]," said Rick Dudley, senior VP-chief operating officer for NHL Enterprises, "will be to regain the positive momentum we had coming out of last season."
That's why Wayne and Garth are suiting up. The NHL's in-house created marketing effort is themed "Game on," taken from a line in the Paramount Pictures film "Wayne's World." A 30-second spot features footage of NHL action interspersed with clips from the first "Wayne's World" movie, in which Wayne and Garth play street-hockey.
Talks are under way with Wayne-comedian Michael Meyers-about an expanded role in future NHL marketing efforts.
Mr. Dudley said publicizing the new schedule is top priority. To that end, the NHL and Sprint have set up an 800-number that will be promoted in the "Game on" spot and print ads running this week in Sports Illustrated and USA Today. In addition, Anheuser-Busch will distribute pocket schedules throughout North America.
A-B and Nike remain the stars of the NHL's earlier revamped sponsorship program, having signed multiyear deals in the $10 million to $20 million a year range. Those deals include commitments to buy airtime on ESPN and Fox. A-B is guaranteed beer exclusivity on the telecasts.
On a lower sponsorship rung are Coca-Cola Co. (for Coca-Cola and Minute Maid) and Quaker Oats Co. (for Gatorade).
A-B plans to implement its complete, wide-ranging NHL marketing program supporting Ice Draft From Budweiser. DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, has the assignment, which was originally slated to launch in December.
Nike has tried to keep hockey hot by accelerating the rollout of the Nike/NHL Street Hockey Program, a grass-roots initiative to set up street-hockey leagues in all NHL markets.
Last month, Nike-reacting to changing trends in the athletic footwear business and the growth of off-ice hockey-purchased Montreal-based Canstar, a leading maker of in-line skates and hockey equipment. Nike will market its own street-hockey shoes this summer, with ads from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., breaking during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The new, truncated season isn't such bad news for Fox, which signed a five-year, $155 million deal with the NHL last September.
Fox was relying on its NHL deal as a key element in building the network's sports division, and it has lost only this month's all-star game. The original plan was to start the rest of its coverage in April. The network will still run two regular season games, nine playoff games and as many as three Stanley Cup finals games.
With the labor settlement, Fox planned to begin airing promos, created in-house, starting Jan. 15. In the wings is the Seiniger Advertising Group, Beverly Hills, Calif., which created Fox's glitzy but edgy introductory National Football League promos. Seiniger is awaiting the go-ahead to turn its attention to hockey.
Mr. Dudley said the NHL won't deviate from its plan of signing only 10 to 12 marketers to nothing less than major, multiyear deals.