NHL All-Star Game Attracts Deep Pockets

Anheuser-Busch, Bank of America, Cisco Systems, Ticketmaster, Verizon and XM Satellite are the six main sponsors of the 2008 National Hockey League All-Star Game, which hits the airwaves from the sold-out game at the Philips Arena in Atlanta on Sunday evening.

These companies committed more than $10 million* to participate in local and national marketing promotions, run concerts and flaunt their affiliation with the NHL. Some also will run with a 30-second television ad during the game at a cost of an estimated $10,000. Those investments are focused just on the All-Star game.

It's a small portion of a bigger chunk that each spends for advertising, marketing and promotions throughout the season, according to Keith Wachtel, NHL's senior vice president for corporate sales and marketing. "We're seeing an increase in marketing support by league partners, which will carry the momentum into an exciting All-Star game in 2009," he says. "Attendance at games is up 2% over last year, which means we will have about 22 million fans in our buildings this year."

More than 2.5 million people in North America watched last year's All-Star game in Dallas, a carrot for league sponsors that typically sign sponsorship commitments of between three and five years in an effort to build brand loyalty among the fans who support the sport.

Brand-building efforts are done with promotions, concerts and giveaways to millions of fans. Anheuser-Busch gave away tickets. The beer company, along with Bank of America, each took out separate full-page, four-color ads in the NHL All-Star program.

XM Satellite, for example, ran a sweepstakes awarding a trip for two to the NHL All-Star weekend and the opportunity to watch the game from a luxury suite.

Promotions that kicked off this week began Thursday with the Bud Light NHL All Star Concert sponsored by Anheuser Bush, featuring artists OneRepublic and Eric Hutchinson.

Today, the Verizon Wireless NHL All Stars presents a night with Wyclef Jean, hosted by Usher to benefit his New Look Foundation that supports youth from underserved communities. The carrier also sponsors festivities on Saturday at the Rockin' Skate presented by Upper Deck and featuring hockey team practices and a concert by the Jonas Brothers.

For the NHL, All-Star marketing efforts began at NHL.com, where seven million unique visitors go to the site monthly during the season to get information on scores and events, Wachtel says.

Versus, the league's television broadcast station, began running 30-second spots leading up to Sunday's game last month. The spots were shot with Anaheim Duck feature All-Star players Chris Pronger and Ryan Getzlaf.

Versus recently exercised an NHL contract option to ensure the Comcast-owned network carries league games through 2011. NHL's Canadian broadcast partner CBC also is running promos.

Live at the game on Sunday night, Verizon plans to demonstrate its latest handsets and encourage sports fans to take pictures and transmit them to the big JumboTron screen at the Philips Arena, where the game takes place.

*Editor's note: Article has been amended post publication.

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