NHL Winter Classic Event Marketing & Sponsorship Activation Report

Both on and off the ice, the NHL Winter Classic grows in popularity every year. The 2011 game on New Year's Day at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals garnered record television ratings. Outside of the stadium, a large "Fan Fest" experience featuring more than 10 brands kept fans entertained throughout the two-day event.


Synergy's Steve Palecek, Tim Heath, and Mike Boyce attended the unseasonably warm event for one of our clients and raved about buzz in the town and in the activation area.


More than 10 brands activated at the event, including Reebok, McDonald's, Honda, Dick's Sporting Goods, Verizon,  Bridgestone, Geico, Upper Deck, Blizzack and Cisco's umi service.


Reebok's footprint featured a "Zigloo" to play off of the brand's Zig sneaker. Inside the 20' diameter structure, fans could try on authentic Reebok and CCM hockey gear that was fitted for eight NHL players, including Winter Classic participants Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Two separate 10'X20' areas highlighted the NHL superstars. Feeding off Reebok's great TV commercial about Crosby shooting pucks at his mom's dryer as a child, the Crosby activation area challenged fans to shoot hockey pucks into an old dryer. Ovechkin's area featured another skills contest, as fans attempted to shoot pucks through three different holes on a branded backdrop. Fans who made three consecutive shots in either area received a coupon for a free pair of Zig sneakers. Reebok also distributed more than 6,000 collectible Zig Winter Classic bracelets.  

"The Crosby activation was instantly embraced by the fans," Heath said. "That area brought the TV spot to life in a relevant and meaningful way for the fans. It was very authentic for the brand."


"The atmosphere was very festive," Heath continued. "There was a huge fan base for both teams and the activation area was packed both days. Fans were tailgating at 8:00 a.m. on Friday (prior to the alumni game at 9:00 a.m.) and cars lined up an hour before the parking lots opened on game day. The entire city had Winter Classic fever."


"The whole event had an All-Star game feel to it," said Palecek. "Hotels were jammed, there was wall-to-wall media coverage and a cab driver I talked to said they were doing double the business of a normal game at Heinz Field."


According to the NBC public relations department, 4.5 million viewers watched the 2011 Winter Classic, making it the most-viewed regular season hockey game in the past 36 years.  Judging by the popularity in the sponsorship activation area and enthusiasm in the Steel City, it's easy to see why.