The League Uses Its Collective Heads, Literally To Bring Brands ROI
When the NHL returned to the ice, and while it was not the bubble that led us to the Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup this past fall, it was still a season largely without fans, with teams divided by geographic regions, and by a league searching for new revenue streams to offset the 40% losses of not having fans in the stands.
While the NBA went the route of the patch several years ago to give teams an added boost here is our patch value story from late August and report on patch performance earlier this month), the NHL has stayed with the MLB and the NFL in keeping that hallowed and valuable spot on the front of uniforms off-limits to teams, at least for now. Practice jersey patches can be sold, but not game jerseys and there was great ancillary exposure found there as well. This Tweet from the New York Rangers had 1,549 engagements and resulted in $1,115 in brand value for Northwell Health. Meanwhile this Instagram post from the Pittsburgh Penguins had 28,910 engagements and resulted in $2,468 in brand value for UPMC.
Instead, the NHL looked at other areas of visibility and value, and essentially came up with two for the 2021 season: expanded virtual signage, and space on the team helmets that can be sold to brands.
While helmet messaging in some way or shape is not that unusual, the NFL even allowed some messaging on the bottom back of helmets this season in support of social causes. The use of headgear for commercial branding is a first for the big four sports in North America. Some sports like lacrosse have found helmet branding lucrative, as well as the Canadian Football League, but the helmets of the NHL, the NFL and Major League Baseball (batting, coaching and even catching helmets) have been devoid of branding with the exception of the manufacturer.
However the NHL’s toe dip into helmet sponsors is an interesting next step into maximizing inventory, which was once seen as off limits.
Now the value of helmet sponsorship will vary from team and partner, overall ancillary spends could be as much as $32 million selling ads on helmets this season. Clubs such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens may draw la deals, while smaller market teams would compel much less. Some have also split the sponsorship. The Arizona Coyotes, for example, announced that they would be wearing two different advertiser’s logos on their helmets. For home games the team will dawn a Mountain America Credit Union logo and for road games it will be that of Dignity Health. The Columbus Blue Jackets announced that they would be wearing the logos of Nationwide (road) and OhioHealth (home) helmets this upcoming season, while the Florida Panthers announced that they will wear the Ford Motor Company logo on their helmets, while during practice the team will dawn the logo of Baptist Health. Why will it matter as a value add? The new helmet creates an average of more than four minutes of additional broadcast exposure during games for partners.
Several teams like the Calgary Flames (ScotiaBank) and the Boston Bruins (TD Bank) have amplified existing relationships. The New Jersey Devils, who rushed to the forefront with their announcement with Prudential Financial, also upped an existing deal. As did the Washington Capitals, who expanded the relationship with their building partner, Capital One. They also took the innovative step of adding a second logo, honoring hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree during Black History Month.
The NHL also went to the well with another innovative sponsorship away from the ice as the season started, allowing sponsors to brand each of the four divisions for the first time ever. Scotia NHL® North Division (Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg), the Honda NHL® West Division (Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas), the Discover NHL® Central Division (Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay) and the MassMutual NHL® East Division (Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington) will again be part of the value add for this, the second-most unusual season in hockey history.
“It’s hard to say how much the NHL is securing for naming the divisions, but it almost surely is a mid-seven-figure amount in each case if not more,” Dan Kaplan of The Athletic said recently.
Now whether or not this is the end of innovative sponsorship on ice is not yet known. It is still to be determined if the sponsorships bring the ROI of NBA jerseys. However the NHL’s quest to find new revenue without sacrificing integrity, is clearly innovative. And innovation in challenging times like these is what will keep sports moving towards business success, one skate blade, and one helmet sponsor, at a time.