Working Overtime: Subway Scores Again With Risky Stanley Cup Play

Company May Seek Fourth Year of Playoff Sponsorship

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A high-risk, high-reward media strategy during the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs is working overtime for Subway Restaurants.

The chain has a deal with NBC to sponsor the "Subway Overtime Intermission Report" every time a game goes into overtime. With two out of the first three games of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings going into extra periods -- Saturday's Game Two actually went into double-overtime -- Subway got high-level product placement across two intermission reports.

Gambling that games will go beyond regulation is something of a "calculated risk," said Subway CMO Tony Pace. But this is the third year in a row Subway has agreed to sponsor the intermission report on NBC/NBC Sports Network. He's considering a fourth year next season if the price is right.

The media strategy was formulated by Subway media shop MediaCom .

There have already been 25 overtime games during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's just three short of the record 28 set in 1993, according to the league. The only other years where more playoff tilts went into overtime were last season (27) and 2001 (26).

When it comes to overtime, the Kings and the Rangers are the gifts that keep on giving to Subway.

Prior to the Kings' 3-0 shutout of the Rangers Monday night, the team won three straight OT games. The Rangers, meanwhile, had gone to OT in four of their previous six playoff match-ups. That's a lot of exposure for Subway at a time when viewer interest is at its peak.

During this year's playoffs, TV viewers have seen the Subway logo in front of and behind NBC hockey announcers Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, Liam McHugh, Bill Patrick and Jeremy Roenick during sponsored intermission reports.

Subway also got to stick its name and logo on digital scoreboards, banners and bumpers going in and out of commercial break. Subway has also been airing traditional TV spots starring endorsers such as Mike Trout of MLB's Los Angeles Angels.

"You're spreading out the risk over a lot of games," said Mr. Pace. "At the end of the day, even if there had been no overtimes in the Stanley Cup Final, we had gotten so many of these before the Stanley Cup Final, that we were well ahead in terms of the calculations you make."

Most NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs advertisers buy across the whole post-season, not just the Final. NBC has been getting around $150,000 per 30-second spot for Final game telecasts, according to Seth Winter, exec VP of sales marketing for NBC Sports Group. That's about the same price as the Chicago Blackhawks' six-game win over the Boston Bruins last year, he said.

This year's New York vs. Los Angeles final features clubs from the country's two biggest TV markets. But with the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil approaching on ESPN, and NBC's own recent big events such as the Sochi Winter Olympics, there are only so many ad bucks out there.

"We had our Olympics early on. We're kind of in the middle of a World Cup phenomenon," said Mr. Winter. "The year has been a little challenging because of the all the live sports surrounding us. Still, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have done very, very well for us."

Another positive development: More NHL sponsors have been showing hockey-inspired commercials during this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, for example, has been airing a spot showing off the sharpshooting skills of American Olympic hockey hero T.J. Oshie. Advil has a spot showing Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist standing tall against a charging Rhino.

The increase in "contextually relevant creative" helps both sponsors and pro sports leagues, Mr. Winter said. "It connects their brands much better to the leagues in which they invest. It connects the viewers much more to their brands. It's a triangulation that works well for everybody."

NBC executives are naturally hoping the Final will go six or seven games. But it doesn't look good for the Rangers. Teams leading 3-0 have won the Stanley Cup 25 of 26 times since the league wnent to a best-of-seven format in 1939. The only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit was Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942.

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