By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
September 20, 2012
On Thursday, when Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that all preseason National Hockey League games through September 30 would be canceled, it really sank in. For the third time in a generation, it’s looking like there’s a real possibility of a hockey season melting away like the ice on which it’s played.
While it’s far too early to put those NHL sweaters back in mothballs and winterize the zamboni, it’s certainly fair game to consider the stakeholders beyond the players, franchises, and fans who would be most strongly impacted by a protracted lockout or season cancellation—most notably, major NHL sponsors, and arena owners. Here’s a look at the brands and the buildings that have the most to lose.
According to the results of a NHL sponsor awareness survey conducted by Turnkey Intelligence last spring, league partners continue to see an increase in the number of league fans who can correctly identify companies as official sponsors of the NHL.
The past three seasons, according to survey findings, have been especially fruitful for official NHL partners in terms of fan recognition. The sponsors within the nine categories the survey tracked have all seen an increase in awareness among NHL fans, with five of the brands—Coors, Discover, Geico, Honda, and Verizon—seeing double digit percentage point jumps.
Interestingly, Gatorade remains the brand that fans are most likely to associate with the NHL, with a 32.3% recognition rate among all fans. However, Gatorade’s position is fast being challenged by Verizon (30.5%), Geico (29.2%), and VISA (28.8%).
Further, close to 63% of avid NHL fans said they are more likely to consider trying a product or service if it is an official NHL sponsor. That compares to response rates of almost 70% for NASCAR fans and 67% for PGA Tour fans, and well above those rates for the NFL, NBA, and MLB.
One NHL-connected brand that’s definitely a short-term loser: Kraft Foods. The Kraft Hockeyville preseason game, scheduled for October 3 in Belleville, Ontario, has now been postponed to 2013.
While Honda was correctly identified by more than 20% of fans in the Turnkey survey as an official NHL brand—the automaker replaced longtime sponsor Dodge as the league’s official automobile in 2008—Honda has much more to risk than many NHL sponsors, as it also holds a 15-year, $60.45 million naming-rights deal for the arena in Anaheim. The Anaheim Ducks played in six nationally-televised games during 2011-2012, adding to the brand’s exposure but exacerbating what it has to lose in the face of a prolonged lockout.
A bit north of Anaheim, the Los Angeles Kings and their home ice Staples Center should still be basking in the glory of their 2012 Stanley Cup victory—Kings front office personnel had glowingly reported a surge in season ticket sales following the club’s June capture of the Cup. This week’s announcement that Kings’ owner AEG has been put up for sale by billionaire Philip Anschutz, however—a sale that would include the Kings, Staples Center, L.A. Live, the nearby Home Depot Center, the MLS Galaxy and a percentage of the Lakers—has thrown even more turmoil into an uncertain situation.
In Nashville, city officials "will still be on the hook for millions of dollars in subsidies to the [NHL] Predators even if the games don’t resume,” according to the Nashville Tennessean. The terms of Nashville’s agreement with the club dictate that the city has an obligation to pay the team up to $8.6 million per year in subsidies and fees for managing Bridgestone arena. Nashville also "pays the team incentives for booking other acts at the venue, some of which generate revenue for the city that won’t be lost to the lockout."
And like all NHL locales, whenever games are canceled, the city takes a hit from ticket and concession revenues. In Nashville’s case, according to one official, the city received a little over $4 million in local and state taxes from hockey games last season.
In Columbus, Ohio, taxpayers—whether hockey fans or not--can breathe a little easier. Even though Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is partially publicly owned, according to the Columbus Dispatch, an NHL lockout "will not cost taxpayers or the Franklin County agency that owns the arena anything because the public receives no revenue from hockey games—not from concessions, parking or tickets." That revenue all goes to the club, major benefactors “in a deal brokered late last year to have the city and county split the cost of buying and operating the arena, and allow the team to play there rent free."