Labatt to fight Molson over NHL deal

(Luc Cinq-Mars/QMI Agency)

(Luc Cinq-Mars/QMI Agency)

Sharon Singleton, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:14 PM ET

Two of Canada's biggest brewers are squaring up for a fight over the right to be the official beer of the NHL.

Molson Coors and MillerCoors on Tuesday said they had reached a seven-year sponsorship accord that names its Molson Canadian brand as the official NHL beer in Canada and the U.S. The companies gave no financial details of the agreement, which is scheduled to take effect in the 2011/2012 hockey season.

Rival Labatt Breweries of Canada shot back saying it had been in negotiations to renew its long-standing sponsorship agreement with the league until 2014 and vowed legal action to enforce its claims.

"Labatt has been the official beer sponsor of the NHL in Canada for more than a decade and we began sponsorship renewal negotiations with the league several months ago to secure sponsorship rights," said Labatt vice-president of corporate affairs Charlie Angelakos. "These negotiations with the NHL proceeded positively and in good faith to the point where the parties had agreed upon the terms of renewal of a sponsorship agreement until 2014. Nothing has happened to change that situation.

"We have an agreement with the league and are pursuing all legal remedies available to us to enforce this agreement," said Angelakos. "Bud and hockey belong together, and we will pursue our case aggressively."

At stake is the opportunity to gain access to millions of loyal hockey fans across North America. The NHL, founded in 1917, is the second-oldest of the four major professional team sports leagues in North America, with 30 member clubs.

"It's very hard to measure the (financial) impact of these marketing deals," said Cary Kaplan, president of sports marketing firm Cosmos Sports in Toronto. "The reality is that there are six Canadian NHL teams that are sold out every game, so that's millions of live customers as well as those at home.

"Molson must be very excited about this and Labatts less so," he said.

Although Molson Canadian will be the lead brand in both the U.S. and Canada under the alliance announced Tuesday, Coors Light will share some of the sponsorship assets in both countries.

Molson Canadian will also be the official beer for key league events, including NHL Face-Off and the NHL Winter Classic, as well as being able to offer consumer promotions involving the Stanley Cup.

"Molson Canadian has a long history of supporting hockey at all levels and will use this platform to build momentum in the States, especially in its core markets where hockey already has a stronghold with fans," said Andy England, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer at MillerCoors.

Montreal- and Denver-based Molson Coors reported earlier this month that full-year income from continuing operations dropped 8.4% to $668.1 million, mainly because profit in the previous year was bolstered by an unusually low tax-rate.

Labatt and its sibling Anheuser-Busch sponsor 22 out of the 24 U.S. NHL teams.

"Budweiser and hockey are a natural fit and in addition to the league sponsorship, we are actively looking for opportunities on a team and grass-roots level to reinforce that connection," Labatt said.


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