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Heritage Classic: Can The NHL Continue To Score With Crown Jewel Events?

Official program for the 2011 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic.February 8, 2011: The NHL, which this season has already produced the outdoor Bridgestone Winter Classic and All-Star Game, is pulling out all the stops to complete its jewel crown trifecta: the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Feb. 20 at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

According to the NHL, the Heritage Classic "has more corporate partner pre-event activation than any previous NHL outdoor game." Although sponsor and marketing activation is focused north of the border, the NHL wants the excitement to spill into the U.S. The game, featuring the Montreal Canadiens against the host Calgary Flames, will be shown domestically on Versus, with pre- and post-game coverage on NHL Network and NHL.com. It also will be part of what has been dubbed "Hockey Day in America," which includes six hours of hockey coverage on NBC.

Among the challenges is the fact that the Heritage Classic falls on what might be one of the busiest sports days of the year to date. TV events on Feb. 20 also include the NBA All-Star Game, the Daytona 500, college basketball and coverage from MLB spring training.

According to the NHL, the league has had "an amazing response for [the Heritage Classic]  from our partners and sponsors." Highest tiered partners include title sponsor Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire (in-ice), Blackberry (in-ice), Scotiabank (in-ice), and activation from other NHL partners such as Budweiser, Bridgestone, Pepsi, and LG.

"We've got more sponsorship dollars against this game than we had [at the 2011 Winter Classic] in Pittsburgh, which was by far the biggest event business that we've had to date." said John Collins, NHL COO. "Being able to get back and play an outdoor game in Canada is something that our fans, corporate partners and the clubs told us is overdue."

To help hype interest in Canada, a 30-second spot, "Alive In All We Are" has been airing nationwide. "This campaign is designed to capture the emotional connection that exists between Canada and the game of hockey — Canada is hockey and hockey is Canada," said Brian Jennings, NHL evp-marketing. "The images of a frozen neighborhood pond and the words of this poem illustrate the timeless tradition of playing hockey outdoors that is part of so many childhoods for Canadian fans and NHL players alike."

In addition, the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic Truck Tour presented by Canadian Tire has been making stops cross-country en route to Calgary on Feb. 9. The vehicle is a custom-built, 53-foot truck that houses the specialized equipment used to make the rink at McMahon Stadium.

On Feb. 19, the NHL will open to the public Spectator Plaza, an outdoor hockey and entertainment festival outside McMahon Stadium populated by NHL marketing partners. Included will be live musical performances, interactive hockey-themed attractions, prizes and giveaways, food, beverage and merchandise tents.

The Heritage Classic predates the Winter Outdoor Classic, with the first one dating back to November 2003 at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. The annual Winter Classic has been played in the U.S. since 2008. It's popularity was a major catalyst in moving the NHL to relaunch the outdoor Heritage Classic in Canada.

"Being able to get back and play an outdoor game in Canada is something that our fans, corporate partners and the clubs told us is overdue."

Tim Horton's signed on as presenting sponsor, and also a league partner in Canada, earlier this season.

According to the NHL, fan research conducted in early January by IMI International showed that 50% of Canadians are already aware of the Heritage Classic and that among Canadian fans the Heritage Classic is already ranked third to the Stanley Cup and Hockey Night in Canada for celebrating the game of hockey in Canada.

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