By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
November 6, 2010: Discover Financial Services has signed a one-year deal to become the official card of the National Hockey League in the U.S. and also the first presenting sponsor of the NHL All-Star Game in eight years. Visa is the official card of the NHL in Canada via a three-year deal signed in 2008.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but industry analysts put the Discover deal at about $5 million. The NHL has had numerous presenting sponsors of various segments of its All-Star event and All-Star Game balloting, but has not had a presenting sponsor for the game itself since Nextel in 2003.
According to Jennifer Murillo, Discover's director of advertising, a significant catalyst in the deal was the success of media buys during NHL broadcasts on NBC and Versus. "We know our customers love hockey," said Murillo. "We were looking for ways to connect with our customers around one of their core passions. We saw the NHL as a great way to get out the message about Discover and all the ways it pays to Discover." (Q&A with Jennifer Murillo is here.)
In addition to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover, which will air Jan. 30 on Versus, the new sponsorship also designates Discover as the official card of such NHL jewel events as All-Star Weekend (Jan. 29-30), the outdoor Bridgestone Winter Classic (Jan. 1), NHL Awards and the NHL Entry Draft.
Discover is expected to support the alliance with TV and other national marketing, in-arena signage during the season, activation during the outdoor Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and All-Star weekend at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. A revised All-Star Game logo incorporating Discover's presence as presenting sponsor will be used in various communications.
Murillo hinted that Discover is considering whether to incorporate an NHL theme into an upcoming spot as part of its "Peggy" campaign, possible featuring an NHL star such as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. "Peggy" features a clueless, bearded male customer-service rep for the fictional U.S.A. Prime Credit company who is unable to help people. Discover's lead agency is The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.
This is Discover's second major sports alliance since August, when the Riverwoods, Ill.-based firm signed a four-year deal to become title sponsor of the college football Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, including the BCS national championship game in 2013.
"These were the right opportunities for us as the right time," said Murillo regarding both the Orange Bowl and NHL deals.
The NHL's 58th All-Star Game originally was scheduled to be played in Phoenix, but the league moved the venue due to extended unresolved ownership problems with the Coyoties. The NHL did not have an All-Star Game in 2010 because of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
According to the company, the NHL alliance builds on Discover’s "existing investment in hockey, giving [the company] extended opportunities to engage with U.S. hockey fans nationwide and develop exclusive hockey-themed rewards opportunities and experiences" across the NHL platform.
"We know our customers love hockey. We were looking for ways to connect with our customers around one of their core passions."
“Partnering with the NHL gives us great opportunities to connect with our card members around their passion for the sport of hockey," Harit Talwar, president of U.S. Cards for Discover, said in a statement. “Through various card member exclusives and unique experiences, including special access to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover, we are providing meaningful reasons for card members to use their Discover Card everyday. It’s another great way to show how it pays to Discover.”
As part of its marketing support, one Discover card member will win a personal "Day with the Stanley Cup" via the Discover NHL Rewards Program. The program will also offer opportunities for card members to redeem their Cashback Bonus rewards for discounts at the NHL's online store and at the NHL Powered by Reebok store in New York, as well as GameCenter Live subscriptions, autographed NHL merchandise and other perks.
“Discover’s passion for providing unique rewards and experiences to their card members is an excellent fit with the NHL where we are predicated on engaging and mobilizing fans around big events,” said Keith Wachtel, svp-corporate sales and marketing for the NHL. “This coupled with Discover’s significant support of our broadcast partners and NHL controlled media assets will provide a deeper engagement with our highly desirable fan demographic.”
The first Discover Orange Bowl will be played Jan. 3, 2011 and will be shown on ESPN. Discover replaced FedEx, which had been title sponsor for more than 20 years. Marketing support for that includes new creative in the "Peggy" campaign with former college football icons Lou Holtz and Bobby Bowden.