How The Stanley Cup Has Made Its Mark

What does it take to be a success in sports and sports marketing? Fame, winning, consistency, desirability, a shining personality?

How about all that and the fact that you are about 120 years old and still as spry as the 20-something year olds who want to embrace you. 

That would be the Stanley Cup, which has been awarded to North America's top hockey teams since 1893 and was inspired by and named after the governor general of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston. It has been under the auspices of the NHL since 1926, which calls its post-season the Stanley Cup playoffs, and, more recently, has become a key member of the league's marketing efforts. 

Long ago, the NHL decided to do with the Stanley Cup what other pro leagues have not with their title trophies: Have the names of championship team players inscribed on the it, and then put the cup in the hands of the players for 100 days to make it accessible to fans around the world. 

And now, as Brian Jennings, the NHL's executive vice-president of marketing, observes, "It has a celebrity status. The NHL has done a good job to make it a focal point of the league and a focal point of the playoffs. But it also is about the uniqueness of the trophy and the stories it comes with. It is iconic."  

In 2002, MasterCard featured the Stanley Cup and one of the men in charge of its care and well-being, Phil Pritchard, in a "Priceless" commercial. 

This year, the NHL is using the Stanley Cup as its post-season TV and Internet marketing centerpiece in "Because It's The Cup." One spot shows the evolution of the Cup itself over the past 120 years. Another follows the Stanley Cup on its worldwide travels, which have included military bases, a baptism in Sweden, the Kentucky Derby, hockey legend Mario Lemieux's swimming pool and night clubs. 

The NHL this year is also upping the ante. A Facebook app allows fans to place themselves in a photo that will show them raising the Cup. And some 6,500 bars across the U.S. and Canada will be equipped with Stanley Cup tap handles that draw Molson Canadian and Coors Light draft. 

As part of its activation as an official partner of the NHL, Discover Financial Services is taking the most symbolic part of the playoffs and offering it to fans and consumers. At a dedicated Web site, people can tell the NHL and Discover why they deserve to spend a "Day With The Stanley Cup." The promotion will be supported by multimedia marketing, including TV, print and Internet. 

The Stanley Cup's trophy peers are jealous with envy, especially considering that they rarely are seen after being presented to the winning team (and some don't even have a name): the NFL's Vince Lombardi Trophy, NBA's Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy, MLB's Commissioners Trophy, the MLS Cup and the FIFA World Cup Trophy. 

"When we were deciding on what creative we would use for the 2011-12 Stanley Cup playoffs, we held focus groups in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto," said Jennings. "At the end of each, we asked, 'What is the name of the trophy that they give out at the end of the NHL season?' And almost in unison, at each session, people would respond, 'The Stanley Cup.' And not only did they know the name, but they also knew that there was a handler who takes care of and travels with the Stanley Cup, that players on each winning team got to keep the cup for a day and went deeper into some of the history of the cup than we could ever have imagined."

According to Jennings, "It was one of those insights that led us to say, 'As far as our [post-season] marketing, let's really make it about the cup.'"

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