The NHL has experienced significant growth in recent years, solidifying its position as a premier professional sports league. For brands looking to establish or enhance their market presence, the NHL offers a valuable partnership opportunity with increasing global viewership and a passionate fan base. As the league expands its digital presence and embraces new marketing technologies, brands have unprecedented opportunities to enhance visibility, increase brand awareness, and reach new audiences. The dynamic and engaging environment of the NHL, coupled with its loyal and energetic fan base, provides an ideal platform for brands to connect with consumers in meaningful ways.

In this year's NHL report, we explore a landscape marked by significant growth and strategic innovation, revealing how traditional powerhouses and emerging brands are redefining engagement through creative sponsorships. The surge in team sponsorship revenue, diversification across new brand categories, and advancements in digital signage and virtual assets are creating exciting new pathways for brands to enhance their visibility and deepen fan connections.

With the $1.4 billion in team sponsorship revenue and a notable increase in digital asset utilization, we’re excited to present our NHL Marketing Partnerships 2023–24 report. This comprehensive analysis provides brands with the insights needed to navigate and capitalize on the dynamic opportunities within the NHL's evolving sponsorship landscape. Authored by SponsorUnited’s Marketing Research and Analytics teams, the report encompasses more than 6,000 brands, 150 athletes, and 43,500 social posts from May 15, 2023 to May 15, 2024.

The Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) took to the ice for the first time on January 1st, 2024, as New York defeated Toronto in the hotly anticipated kick-off of the 2024 regular season. Six teams—Boston, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Montreal, New York, Ottawa, and Toronto—will each compete 24 times during a 72-game schedule that’s poised to launch a thrilling new era of women’s hockey. 

A fledgling force in the sports world, the PWHL exemplifies a unique blend of emerging and established brand partnerships that are reshaping the landscape of the women's game. A key case in point: Woody Creek, the Colorado-based distillery that became the league’s first US Premier Partner in its inaugural season, and whose involvement with the PWHL has been a catalyst for the league’s rapidly growing visibility. The brand’s high-profile assets include TV-visible dasher board signage, its role as the presenting partner of the end-of-season PWHL Awards, and sponsor the “Player to Watch” during broadcasts.

"Brands that have invested in the PWHL have signaled their confidence in the success of professional women’s sports, and believe in the valuable return that working with this league can provide," says Paul Gugliucci, Senior Manager of Corporate Partnerships for the PWHL. "No collaboration is alike, and the PWHL is making it a point to bring new ideas to the table for potential partners.”

The league’s strategy of partnering with emerging brands like Woody Creek demonstrates the PWHL’s nimble, efficient approach to securing sponsorships—but it also doesn't shy away from collaborations with larger, more established names. Following in the NHL’s footsteps, its partners already include marquee brands like Canadian Tire, Hyundai, and Rogers, amplifying its credibility and reach. Canadian Tire specifically shines as a major sponsor, its presence magnified through multiple assets like media backdrops, dasher board signage, and the secondary jersey logo. The brand’s sponsorship of the inaugural PWHL draft and the Players of the Game call-out on the broadcasts, along with the recent 3-on-3 exhibition showcase at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, underscores its sizable role in promoting the league.

3-on-3 exhibition showcase at Scotiabank Arena

Viewer engagement with women's sports is on the rise—a trend reflected in the PWHL's audience numbers. With 2.9M viewers in Canada alone, the league has successfully maintained momentum five weeks into the season. Its burgeoning interest in attracting new brands—especially those formerly absent from hockey, like Rheem and Woody Creek—speaks to its willingness to explore a wide range of partnerships. The league's deal structures are also noteworthy—a mix of one- and three-year agreements, demonstrating the PWHL's confidence in its own growth.

Woody Creek
Woody Creek Jersey Sponsorship

Ownership is another arena where the PWHL is breaking new ground. The league owns all six teams and player rights under an eight-year agreement—an innovative model that extends to player endorsements and appearances, integrating them into contracts at a set rate by the league and ensuring equitable distribution among partners. The league's unique “Jailbreak” trademark—where a scoring team in a penalty kill situation releases the player from the penalty box—adds an exciting twist to the game. In just its premier  season on the ice, the PWHL is not only elevating women’s ice hockey and expanding its audience, but also empowering young female hockey players to set their sights on a  professional career in the sport.

We’re nearly two months into the NBA and NHL 2023–2024 seasons, and so far, more than 4,000 brands have purchased a sponsorship or media deal across both leagues. Of these companies, 59% have at least one sponsorship and 24% have two or more. Let’s take a closer look at the breakdown of these deals within these two fan-favorite sports. 

More than 1,800 brands currently have a NHL sponsorship at the league or team level. Team sponsorship revenue rose 21% last year, to $1.28B—notably outpacing growth in all other major pro sports leagues, including the NFL. Meanwhile, brands continue to expand their footprint within the league: as of November 29th, Casamigos Tequila, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Graybar, Jersey Mike’s, and Tostitos take top billing as the brands with the highest increase in sponsorships so far this season. As partnerships with an environmental / philanthropic theme become more prevalent, more than 210 brands have supported a local community or cause already this season—led by Air Canada, whose deals are nearly all with Canadian teams.

Within the NBA, just over 1,400 brands have a sponsorship thus far–of which more than 200 have inked a deal this year for the first time. Pluto TV made the biggest splash of all new entrants, thanks to its partnerships with four teams—the Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Dallas Mavericks. On the asset front, 650 brands, led by the financial sector, have purchased interior signage, making it the most popular asset through November. Ribbon Board Digital Ad, Digital Ad on Video Board, and Courtside Apron Digital Ads comprise the leading three interior signage assets, followed by seven more digital interior signage assets to round out the top 10—reflecting the ongoing digital transformation within the NBA.

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The 2023–24 NHL season, which started Tuesday, is set to be a banner year for sponsorships, as the league continues to attract new partners and expand its existing relationships. NHL teams generated nearly $1.3B in sponsorship revenue last season—a 21% increase from the previous year.

The NHL has announced several new partnerships for the upcoming season, including a multiyear deal with Kal Tire, naming the brand the Official Tire Expert of the NHL. Global digital services and solutions provider Presidio has also come aboard for the upcoming season as the league’s Official Technology Innovation Partner, joining other sponsors like WestJet, ServiceNow, and Fastenal.

Dietary supplement maker BioSteel is the biggest sponsor in pro hockey, partnering with the league and all of its 32 teams. A sponsored post between the brand and Chicago Blackhawks center Connor Bedard—which showed him doing some amazing moves on the ice at BioSteel’s NHL Camp for 30 top players and prospects in September—was the most engaging post of the offseason, with 113K followers. Bedard—the first round pick of the 2023 draft and potential future face of the NHL—currently has six partnerships, with brands including BioSteel, Lululemon, and Hyundai Motor, among others. 

Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Penguins hosted the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL’s first primetime game of the season on ESPN. During the broadcast, the power of digitally enhanced dasherboards (DEDs) were on full display, as nine brands—Bet MGM, GEICO, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Honda, Jersey Mike’s, Discover, ESPN+, Jagermeister, and MassMutual—again lit up the dynamic new asset after buying them during their  league debut last year. 

As reported by ESPN, the NHL is considering changes to its digitally enhanced dasherboards (DED) after facing fan criticisms during their inaugural season. DED technology enables the digital replacement of camera-visible arena ads during broadcasts with advertisers purchasing 30–second slots based on the game clock. Some fans expressed concerns about technical glitches, disruptive artificiality, and occasional disorientation caused by moving advertisements.

Keith Wachtel, the NHL's Chief Business Officer, acknowledged these critiques but mentioned that the league believes most viewers have grown comfortable with the digital ad boards. The NHL made minor adjustments to improve the viewing experience during the 2022–23 season, including changes in brightness and motion-blurring of the ads. Despite occasional complaints, the league sees the DED system as a significant enhancement compared to traditional static ads.

One notable development is the impressive increase in sponsorship revenue, as reported within our NHL 2022–23 Report which was released this past June. The report revealed a 21% year-over-year increase in NHL sponsorship revenue, with 700 unique brands including DED in the partnership asset mix. The league's success in this aspect and the positive reception from many viewers suggest that the NHL is likely to continue refining the DED system, aiming to enhance the overall viewing experience while maximizing sponsorship opportunities.

Professional hockey is having a moment, as evidenced by its record-breaking 2022-2023 season.

NHL team sponsorship revenue rose 21% over last year totaling $1.28B, outpacing growth in all other major pro sports leagues, including the NFL. This dazzling jump was fueled by a record 70 sponsors this season, including new global-level sponsors, which numbered 11 this season compared to just five brands four years ago.

Viewership is also climbing. ​​ABC and ESPN combined showed 50 NHL games this season, 22 more than last, averaging 629K viewers— a 6% increase over last year (excluding limited windows where the NHL competed with NFL broadcasts). ABC alone averaged around one million viewers for this season’s games, up 19% versus the 2021-2022 season. The first round of the NHL playoffs was the most watched of all time, up 18% over last year through the first 14 games.

In another first, the NHL unveiled jersey patch sponsorships this year, with just 13 of the league’s 32 teams having inked deals so far— presenting a prime opportunity for brands to buy into this high-profile asset. Meanwhile, the league is strategically overhauling its entire sponsorship model, creating multifaceted partnerships that showcase social causes and embrace new categories and assets— namely heavy equipment and industrial power (Caterpillar) and NFTs (Sweet)— driving ROI and elevating the fan experience.

But the NHL’s debut of digitally enhanced dasherboards (DEDs) marked arguably the most exciting introduction not only within the league, but across all professional sports this season. Seven years in the making, DEDs represent the next frontier in NHL advertising, enabling the digital replacement of camera-visible ads within local, national and international NHL game broadcasts. While the Automotive sector leads in DED exposure so far, other categories— including Sports Betting & Fantasy, whose NHL sponsorships surged a staggering 185% this season— are quickly piling on. In years to come, every broadcast of every game could feature completely different ads on the boards worldwide— a transformative technology poised to change the sponsorship game within the league and beyond, as marketers across the entire professional sports sponsorship spectrum embrace its incredible potential.

For all these reasons and more, we’re excited to present the NHL Marketing Partnerships Report 2022-2023. Authored jointly by SponsorUnited’s Marketing Research & Insights, Analytics and Marketing teams, it delivers an in-depth analysis of more than 2,300 brands, 360 assets, and over 44,000 social posts between Aug 23, 2022, and May 16, 2023.

Leading sports collectibles company Upper Deck–an NHL partner since 1990–has brought its knack for innovative activations to its role as the title sponsor for the NHL Entry Draft, which concludes today. The exclusive licensed manufacturer of NHL Trading Cards, the company is also keen to expand into the NFT space.

In keeping with its longtime strategy of boosting younger generations’ engagement with the NHL–both inside and outside the arena–Upper Deck has been drumming up excitement for the draft citywide since June 26th, when the Upper Deck truck began roaming Montreal’s streets. Free giveaways along its nine-stop route include 2022 draft exclusive 9-card player sheets, as well as mini posters of Shane Wright, Upper Deck ambassador and potential #1 draft pick. Fans were encouraged to post their truck pics on social media with the hashtag #CollectTheBest.

The fun continues inside the Bell Centre today, where Puck-O–a variation on Plinko–on the arena concourse offers kids the chance to win customized play mats, calendars, and other prizes with the purchase of one pack of Upper Deck hobby cards.

At NHL marquee events, card games–like “pack wars” to determine who has the most valuable card, and kids’ bingo with NHL mascots–have been another unique tactic for cultivating young fans. Upper Deck launched an online game during the Stanley Cup, when fans could win a free player pack by guessing the players’ identities from their descriptions.

The company was also the presenting sponsor of the Mascot Showdown at the 2022 All-Star Game, where team mascots faced off in competitions including dodgeball and broomball. Upper Deck was tagged in Instagram posts and featured with signage throughout the video along the boards of the rink.

To read more about the NHL partnerships this year, download our 2021-22 NHL Marketing & Partnerships Report .

Game 5 of the NHL Stanley Cups takes place tonight, as both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche look to take home the cup. The Finals feature different broadcasts for US and Canadian based fans, with ABC hosting the US coverage and SportsNet hosting Canadian coverage. Looking back at the first game of the series, what differences and similarities did we find between the brands and assets sponsoring the most important matchup of the NHL season?

SportsNet’s broadcast featured 46 unique brands. The top three most frequent brands and their assets during the Canadian coverage were:

  • DraftKings (Gaming)
  • Logo in Broadcast Studio
  • Live Read Commercial
  • Sponsored Segment
  • Split Screen Commercial
  • Recorded Commercial (3)

​​On Canadian broadcasts, the gaming category ranked 3rd. Didn’t crack the top 10 for US broadcasts. Reasoning would logically be legalization of single-game gambling in Canada this past August before the season started.

  • Scotiabank (Banking)
  • Period Naming Rights (Presenting Sponsor)
  • Live Read Commercial
  • Logo Pop Up
  • Recorded Commercial (3)
  • SkipTheDishes (On-Demand Delivery)
  • Sponsored Segment
  • Live Read Commercial
  • Recorded Commercial (2)

ABC’s broadcast featured 61 unique brands. The three most prominent brands from the US coverage were as follows:

  • Lexus (Luxury Car Manufacturer)
  • Intermission Report Naming Rights (Presenting Sponsor)
  • Logo in Studio
  • Live Read Commercial
  • Recorded Commercial (4)
  • GEICO (Insurance
  • Presenting Sponsor of the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals
  • Live Read Commercial
  • Logo Pop up
  • Recorded Commercial (3)
  • Verizon (Telecommunications)
  • Pregame Naming Rights (Presenting Sponsor)
  • Logo in Studio
  • Recorded Commercial (3)

Finance companies boost NHL team sponsorship revenue past the $1B mark for the first time in league history

The NHL 2021-22 Marketing & Partnerships Annual Report highlights trends in sponsorships surrounding the National Hockey League, teams, athletes, and media partners. Uncover data on over 3,300 NHL partnership deals and over 2,000 active brands buying sponsorships and media in the NHL.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Finance companies boost NHL team sponsorship revenue past the $1B mark for the first time in league history.
  • This jump is a 63% increase from the $623 million in the 2020-21 season.
  • Cause-related sponsorship campaigns increased 23% year over year, with Finance brands overtaking Healthcare brands as the most active supporter of causes.On average, 10 brands activated against a cause (vs. 8 last season.)
  • The seven Canadian teams had a higher average social following compared to the 23 US teams.Brands received 2x the engagement with US teams.
  • The NHL league account posts more than any other pro sports league, in fact, 2x more than the NFL (second-most.)No team or player in the NHL has a larger social following than the league itself.
  • Banking and Beer brands were the top spenders as marquee brands continued to increase spend this season.Beer companies more than doubled their spend with NHL teams which moved the Beverage (Alcoholic) category past Healthcare to #2.

The CHL's 2022 Memorial Cup began this week, a four-team round-robin tournament held at TD Station.

We highlight the sponsorship and media activity of the four competing teams during the nine day tournament.

Memorial Cup Qualifying Teams
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