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How 9 brands celebrated the start of hockey season

Canadian brands have hockey fever – even the ones that haven't spent sponsor dollars

Hockey fever has officially hit. Wednesday kicked off the NHL season, with fans flooding into arenas across North America to watch the #puckdrop, as the sport’s new carrier, Sportsnet, branded it.

A parade of brands followed the mass of Canadian eyeballs glued to the ice, eager to capitalize on the flurry of attention the start of the season brings. According to Brian Cooper, president of the S&E Sponsorship Group Inc., this year’s season opener has brought an unprecedented level of consumer attention.

Cooper attributes the momentum to the sport’s new Canadian broadcaster, Rogers (Disclosure: Marketing is a Rogers property). He said brands he works with on hockey programs, like Scotiabank and Canadian Tire, have increased their spend on hockey-related marketing in part because there are more opportunities to run integrated programs.

“There’s a higher buzz level than there’s ever been before for the opening season,” he said. “And it’s not because the Leafs all of a sudden got better.”

Here’s a look at how nine brands celebrated the start of the season:

Official sponsors

Sport Chek
Sport Chek has turned the start of hockey season into a full-on marketing blitz. On Oct. 7, the brand released “Ode To Hockey,” a 30-second spot starring the Halifax-born Sidney Crosby, captain of the Pittsburg Penguins. That effort was paired with a suite of promotions and other content, including free skate sharpenings in-store, sales on hockey sticks, a how-to video about skate sharpening and a contest asking consumers to share selfies of themselves in hockey jerseys for the chance to win Toronto Maple Leafs tickets.

Sport Chek’s sister store, Canadian Tire, also did several activations, including a meet and greet with retired NHL player and Hockey Hall of Famer Darryl Sitter. The retailer also posted well wishes for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Facebook with a Go Leafs Go post.

Molson Canadian
The beer brand created a 30-second spot featuring its Beer Fridge, a marketing hit it’s bringing back for the 2014-2015 hockey season. As part of its #AnythingForHockey initiative, Molson is flying 10 fans to a hockey rink set in between mountain peaks. The beer brand also doubled down on social media content with some help from Brand PhotoDesk, which created a series of hockey-related images that the brand shared on social media in the weeks leading up to the first game.

Screen shot 2014-10-09 at 2.39.14 PMScotiabank tapped several retired NHL players, including Stanley Cup winner Joe Nieuwendyk and former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark, for on-stage Q&As at Yonge-Dundas Square. Naturally, the on-site activation was paired with an OOH buy, creating a branded backdrop for the Q&As via digital billboards.

While it focused on former stars to kick things off, Scotiabank’s hockey program is actually focused on community hockey leagues. On Oct. 8 it released several online videos that tell Canadian hockey stories. One video showcases Warner, Alta., which created a premiere all-girls hockey school to thwart the loss of their high school due to a dwindling population. Another tells the story of a boy at a hockey camp in Nunavut.

Tim Hortons
Screen shot 2014-10-09 at 3.04.24 PM
Founded by a Toronto Maple Leaf, Tim Hortons has hockey baked into its DNA. It brought out the blue and white (it’s original brand colours; not coincidentally also the Maple Leaf colours) on Oct. 8, handing out coffee to hockey fans in Yonge-Dundas Square. The brand also signed on as the presenting sponsor of TSN’s daily hockey news show, That’s Hockey, which will now be called Tim Hortons That’s Hockey. As part of the deal, there will be a branded feature of news snippets called Timbit Tidbits.

Like Scotiabank, Tim Hortons also has community hockey initiatives, via its Timbits Minor Hockey program, which will financially support 300,000 young hockey players this year.


Screen shot 2014-10-09 at 2.26.31 PMVisa may be an official Canadian sponsor of the NHL, but it was MasterCard that won share of mind on opening night. MasterCard continued using the #OldestRivalry concept, playing off the long-standing rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. For the 2013-2014 season, the brand hired a men’s quartet to sing personalized songs for individual consumers who posted about the rivalry on social media.

It was no surprise that the brand was front row on Wednesday to see the teams face off. It also tapped a famous player from each team – Doug Gilmour and Guy Carbonneau – and surprised fans with the chance to watch the game with two hockey legends from a box. Throughout the night, MasterCard live-tweeted the game and shared behind-the-scenes photos of fans with Gilmour and Carbonneau.

Screen shot 2014-10-09 at 3.22.43 PMBudweiser
Back in the winter of 2013, Budweiser snagged a massive marketing coup with Red Light. Despite not being an official sponsor (Molson won the rights), the brand every hockey fan was talking about was Budweiser. Since then, Bud has continued to come up with new iterations of Red Light and more are likely to come this year. The brand’s Twitter banner currently reads, “Goals are back in season,” not-so-subtly aligning the brand with hockey, despite the lack of an official sponsorship.

On Wednesday night, it live tweeted the games, posting GIFs of a red light going off when teams scored. Like Molson, Bud also invested in some polished, art directed social ads in addition to the in-the-moment fare.

Subway, Kernels and Koodo
Being a non-sponsor limits what a brand can do, but social media is still something of a free-for-all, at least until the NHL gets aggressive about policing non-sponsor activity, as the Canadian Olympic Committee has done, brands are likely to continue to news-jack the major league hockey events. Like the Oscars, the Super Bowl and the Video Music Awards, the start of hockey – at least in Canada – is the kind of tent-pole event marketers are reticent to miss out on whether it makes sense for their brand or not.

Here are three more real-time quick hits from non-sponsors:

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