Budweiser ‘Playoff Payoff’ Promotion Ambushes NHL


Perhaps the most interesting and controversial campaign around the NHL PlayOffs was Budweiser Labatt’s guerrilla ‘hockey tickets for life’ promotion.


Budweiser is Canada’s top selling beer brand and until last year it was the official NHL beer. A position it lost after a high profile legal battle with the NHL and rival Molson.


But it didn’t stop the former official partner from activating around the Stanley Cup by offering Canadians the chance to win tickets for life in its promotional game called ‘Playoff Payoff’.


‘Playoff Payoff’ PIN codes were placed on bottle caps in special edition Budweiser packs and on coasters at participating bars and restaurants.


Each PIN includes a city and playoff round and fans were encouraged to enter the PIN on www.KingClub.ca where a personalized gaming bracket will be set up. Online, the PINs become ‘caps’ that sit on a player’s bench. The caps can be dragged and dropped into a player’s bracket as the playoffs unfold and consumers can also trade duplicates and make trades for caps missing from their bracket.


Budweiser also seeded special wild card style Power Play PINs throughout the contest which were seeded across other channels including Facebook, email, SMS.


When a player has filled in their entire bracket, they have the chance to win the grand prize of hockey tickets for life. This consists of a pair of tickets to 20 regular season hockey games per year for life (to a maximum of 50 years) in a Canadian city of their choice from the beginning of the 2012-2013 season. There were 560,000 other prizes (worth $6m) ranging from Samsung televisions and smartphones, to Xboxes and pizza.


Labatt’s, Budweiser Canadian parent, made it clear with a legal disclaimer in ads, packaging and various other materials, that ‘Playoff Payoff’ is about hockey generally and that Budweiser is not an official sponsor of the National Hockey League.


‘Budweiser is a huge supporter of hockey and we know how deep love of the game runs coast-to-coast. We’re continuing to make hockey more exciting, more fun and more accessible for Canadians. And, with Playoff Payoff, we’re delivering on this in a very big way – the chance to win hockey tickets for life,’ said Ben Seaton, Marketing Manager, Budweiser Canada.


‘This season, whether their favourite city makes the playoffs or not, fans can become part of the excitement from start to finish with the simple twist of a cap.’


While Budweiser promoted this ambush campaign both above abd below the line, official beer partner Molson ran its own campaign. The new Molson deal included around $100m in rights fees, $100m in guaranteed advertising buys, and a $100m activation budget.


This activation budget was spent on promotions including miniature Stanley Cups in cases of beer, restaurant initiatives, ‘fan experience’ tents at the All-Star Games and the Drafts, as well as competitions for Draft and Stanley Cup trips and tickets.




This ambush campaign follows last year’s legal battle between the NHL, Labatt and Molson over official sponsorship rights.


Last October the NHL and Molson signed a hefty $375m North American sponsorship deal – the largest in league history. Rival Labatt Breweries sued to stop it arguing that it already had a $36m three-year Canadian deal.


But while Molson and the NHL won the legal fight, the marketing battle continued into this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs with this Labatt’s ambush activity.


The NHL itself, in tandem with its new official beer partner Molson Coors, took the unusual step of turning the ire of their PR machines onto Labatt’s guerrilla promotion.


‘We want our fans to know that the NHL has no affiliation with that promotion, and we can offer no assurances to our fans that the desired tickets will be available to the winner,’ the NHL said in a post titled “a message to our fans” on its own website.


While the chief public affairs officer at Molson Coors, the NHL’s official North American beer sponsor, also derided the campaign. Ferg Devins said that even if Labatt wanted to buy tickets on the open market, it would be all but impossible, as, after all, ‘In Montreal, there’s been a waiting list for 20 years.”


Labatt responded publicly with a written statement highlighting that it had not used the NHL or any of its team names in the campaign.


‘Let me be clear. We’ll deliver on our Playoff Payoff Tickets for Life commitment to fans. Budweiser Playoff Payoff is definitely still on,’ said Charlie Angelakos, vice president of corporate affairs for Labatt.


The chances are that the fans themselves won’t be too interested in the rights and wrongs of ambush marketing, as long as they get their tickets.











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