NHL-theme Wendy's spots starring Mr. Thomas are part of a new two-year sponsorship deal that takes effect with the 1997-98 season. But next year, this new cooperation could put Wendy's on a collision course with McDonald's Corp. over ambush marketing during the Winter Olympics.
Wendy's agency Bates USA, New York, will create NHL-theme spots featuring the company's founder and ad spokesman, integrating the fast-feeder's only sports sponsorship into its overall brand message rather than treating it as adjunct marketing.
Mr. Thomas is "a very strong voice in the ad marketplace," said Steve Solomon, NHL senior VP-chief operating officer.
"Whenever he's been used, the ads have been effective, recognizable and memorable," he added.
Mr. Thomas is expected to share screen time in the ads with several NHL stars, a right Wendy's purchased from the NHL Players' Association, which Wendy's will also sponsor.
In fact, the pact marks the first joint sponsorship agreement among the NHL, NHLPA and USA Hockey, the sport's governing body in this country.
In addition, the NHL is talking with Wendy's about tying in to the trio's 1998 Winter Olympics program.
If Wendy's signs up for the Olympic effort, it will be seen as an ambush of McDonald's, a global sponsor of next year's Winter Olympics. Wendy's had bought time in CBS' broadcast of the Games prior to its NHL deal. McDonald's was said to have been interested in the NHL's quick-service restaurant sponsorship, but talks cooled late last year.
Wendy's is expected to launch its first NHL-related marketing activities before the NHL all-star game the weekend of Jan. 17-18, but the bulk of its inaugural program will hit after that.
Fox's broadcasts of regular season NHL games begin with the all-star game, and Wendy's will have four units in each game, plus a sponsored vignette produced by the NHL and Fox.
Wendy's also will leverage its rights with consumer promotions, handled by Impact, Chicago, supported by point-of-purchase advertising throughout the chain's 5,100 U.S. locations.
This all adds up to more visibility for the NHL, challenged with maintaining its growth of recent years that's due in no small part to the league's successful revamp of marketing tactics and its approach to sponsorship.
"The breadth of their marketing and the amount of traffic that a retail operation like Wendy's generates on a daily basis provide even more exposure for our game," Mr. Solomon said.
Wendy's, "the official hamburger of the NHL," will promote its Classic Single hamburger to hockey fans ages 18 to 35, the NHL's strongest demographics, as well as to kids, another hotbed of hockey fans.