You won't see it at any Toronto Raptors games, but Miller Genuine Draft is now the official beer of the NBA in Canada.
On Tuesday, brewer SABMiller Canada and the Canadian arm of the National Basketball Association are announcing a multiyear sponsorship deal for the MGD brand in this country.
The beer used to be sold at Air Canada Centre because it was distributed in Canada by Molson Coors Brewing Co. through a deal with SABMiller PLC. That relationship ended on April 1, as SABMiller decided to take over the task of marketing its brands to Canadians. But it also meant that MGD no longer benefited from Molson's relationship with Toronto's pro basketball team. It is no longer sold at concessions in the ACC or bars in the arena.
"When we ended our relationship, we understood that it was going to have an impact on our association with the Raptors," said Stewart Cowan, vice-president of marketing at SABMiller Canada. "But it doesn't change our opinion that basketball is an important association for MGD."
The deal gives MGD the opportunity to promote its brand around a big upcoming event: the NBA All-Star Game, which will be hosted in Toronto next year. It also gives the brand the right to market itself during the draft, the finals and other league events.
MGD has a slightly younger target market than other Miller products. The brand's drinkers tend to be in their 20s and early 30s. They are also a more ethnically and demographically diverse group than that of some other brands, which fits with the NBA's audience.
"The NBA does well at being a very diverse and inclusive sport," Mr. Cowan said.
The sport is on a bit of a roll in Canada when it comes to wooing lucrative sponsorship contracts with advertisers. At the team level, the Raptors have proven highly attractive to sponsors; and that has rubbed off at the league level as well. In the past year alone, NBA Canada has signed five new sponsorship deals: with Air Miles, Bank of Montreal, Kumho Tire, Unilever, and now MGD.
NBA Canada has not had an official beer partner since a one-year deal with Moosehead Breweries expired in 2009.
"It's a great time for the game in this country and fans in this country," said Dan Mackenzie, NBA Canada's vice-president and managing director. "When that happens, brands want to be associated with it."
In addition to a significant improvement in the Raptors' prospects, there are other factors driving sponsors' attraction to basketball. With a hot team comes higher television ratings – Raptors viewership was up 75 per cent this season and general NBA viewership rose 73 per cent – and a bigger opportunity for advertisers to reach people. According to Statistics Canada, a growing number of Canadians are playing the sport as a hobby. There are now more Canadian players in the league than ever before and last month Toronto-born Andrew Wiggins was named NBA Rookie of the Year.
"What we're finding among all our partners is that there's a real desire to communicate with the basketball fan in Canada," Mr. Mackenzie said. "It's a growing fan base, it's a desirable demographic – it's ethnically diverse and it's concentrated in urban centres."