For Enterprise Rent-A-Car, it was not a matter of whether it would renew its sponsorship position with the National Hockey League, it was a question of when.
The leading car rental company’s three-year deal as an NHL corporate marketing partner expired at the end of the 2011-12 season. Chief marketing and communications officer Pat Farrell said the company was ready to recommit to its relationship with the NHL but the lockout intervened, putting the renewal on hold. Enterprise inked a new three-year deal, with options, last week.
“The NHL has been a good partner. There was no harm in waiting to see how [the lockout] played out. It’s been a very positive relationship,” he said, noting some adjustments were made in the agreement to account for this shortened season.
Farrell believes in the deal, which carries options for two- or three-year extensions, and the league for a number of reasons.
“We want to be associated with a property, whose fan base is very loyal and has a lot pride and passion toward the NHL,” he explained. “Since Enterprise is part of the NHL team, those attributes become attached to our company.”
He said the NHL skews with the younger part of Enterprise’s customer base, works well in the U.S., and is strong performer for its operating groups in Canada, “It’s not often that a property will work in both nations,” he said, adding that the company gains great exposure on national and regional TV via dasher boards in 26 of the 30 NHL arenas.
Farrell said Enterprise will come out of the gate “full bore” on NBC and NBC Sports Network. “It’s a nice level of ad spending, comparable to the past couple of seasons.” Local operating groups also purchase media on RSNs covering NHL clubs.
Enterprise is also activating its sponsorship by dropping the puck for a third season on the Hat Trick Challenge. Fans can play the online game by visiting NHL.com and then clicking the “fantasy” tab. Encouraged to play daily, users can test their ability to predict what happens on the ice by answering a series of three questions. The fan that scores the most Hat Tricks -- three correct predictions in one day -- over the course of the season will win the grand prize – a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Fans can also create private leagues and compete against their friends.
There are regular-season and playoff versions of the contest, which also manifests at the league’s arenas. Enterprise has partnered with 29 of the 30 NHL clubs (sans Toronto) to execute an in-arena version of the Hat Trick Challenge. In their buildings, the clubs can create a trivia or on-ice activation during breaks in the action or period intermissions.
Whether watching the action live, or on the small screen, Farrell said the time is drawing nigh when basketball and hockey will skate to the forefront of sports media landscape.
“Football season is winding down and MLB has yet to start,” he said. “We think there is a pent-up demand for the NHL.”
As part of Enterprise’s due diligence for the sponsorship, Farrell said that the company found that after the pro hockey league’s 2004-05 season was wiped out by a labor dispute, “both fans and sponsors returned quickly. We believe [the NHL] is going to come back strong and we want to be part of it.”
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