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George Stroumboulopoulos (centre) strikes a pose for photographers alongside Ron MacLean (left) and Don Cherry as Rogers TV unveil their team for the station's NHL coverage in Toronto on Monday March 10, 2014. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
George Stroumboulopoulos (centre) strikes a pose for photographers alongside Ron MacLean (left) and Don Cherry as Rogers TV unveil their team for the station's NHL coverage in Toronto on Monday March 10, 2014. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Rogers ramps up NHL ad buys Add to ...

Eugenie Bouchard’s rising star has brought excitement to Canadian tennis. But her advancement to the Wimbledon final this weekend also had an unexpected beneficiary: hockey.

That is, Rogers Communications Inc.’s marketing plan for hockey. Still months away from the first puck drop, Rogers has begun advertising itself as Canada’s new hockey broadcaster, using Ms. Bouchard’s historic run at the Wimbledon title (broadcast on rival network TSN) as an opportunity to run new ads during Sportsnet news shows.

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Rogers’ 12-year, $5.2-billion deal for National Hockey League broadcast and multimedia rights went into effect on July 1. As the company prepares for the new season, even in the height of summer, it’s latching on to any event that brings Canadian sports fans together to remind them who will soon be bringing them their hockey.

To do this, Rogers is embarking on one of the biggest years of marketing spending yet for its Sportsnet channel. The debut campaign for NHL hockey on Sportsnet encompasses three commercials that will air mostly on Rogers-owned television stations, along with ads in its print magazines and digital properties.

“It’s a new relationship for us and our brands with Canadian hockey fans,” said Dale Hooper, chief brand officer for Rogers Communication Inc. “We want to make sure they understand we revere it as much as they do.”

The marketing plan has been shaped by a major research project that Rogers and the NHL began in February, asking Canadians to be “fan advisers.” That research had a particular focus on understanding the relationship that new Canadians and the younger generation have toward the sport.

What they learned, Mr. Hooper said, was that viewers want more stories behind the game. Hence the reference in the ads to Bobby Hull’s summers getting strong by working on a farm – it’s an example of the type of stories that will appear during Rogers broadcasts as well.

The campaign marks a shift in Sportsnet’s marketing: In past, all advertising for the sports channels was produced by Rogers’s in-house advertising team; for the NHL campaign, that team collaborated with the company’s ad agency, Publicis, for the first time. The agency will be doing more advertising work as Rogers Media kicks its NHL plan into high gear. In the fall, the messaging will shift to more concrete information on the different ways that Canadian viewers can watch hockey through Rogers properties. For now, the campaign kick-off aims for a more emotional connection.

“As we embarked on the NHL, both the Rogers and Sportsnet brands are key as our NHL brands,” Mr. Hooper said. “So we wanted to make sure as we start that off, that those brands both have clear identities, but that they are working together to bring hockey to Canadians.”

(Editor's note: An earlier online version of this story has been changed to give the correct title of Dale Hooper as chief brand officer for Rogers Communications Inc.)

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