NHL's lost season puts future deals in peril

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After becoming the first North American professional sports league to cancel an entire season last week when its owners could not settle with the players on a collective bargaining agreement, the National Hockey League must now grapple with an erosion of confidence from sponsors that threaten its future.

In doing so, the league lost an estimated $400 million in advertising revenue, $60 million from its one-year cable TV contract with Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, and an unknown amount of income from its national broadcast deal with General Electric Co.'s NBC.

Marketers had already shifted ad dollars away from the NHL to other sports back in September (AA, Sept. 20, 2004). Now, two corporate partners who asked not to be identified told Advertising Age last week they will reconsider their sponsorships with the league.

"There was a lot of internal discussion here, even before the lockout, about whether enough of an audience was there to justify what we've done with the league," said a marketing officer from one of the companies.

Others remain confident the league will return.

"Our sponsorship is an effective way to reach the wide variety of adult fans," said Tony Ponturo, VP-global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch.

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