Although there were plenty of reasons for Molson Coors Canada and MillerCoors, LLC to be interested in securing status as the official beer of the NHL—which they accomplished through a seven-year, nine-figure deal announced last week—the league’s emphasis on new events and the promise of more to come was key.

At an estimated $400 million, the deal is the largest in league history and allows the Molson Canadian brand to replace Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV’s Bud Light just as A-B gets set to usurp MillerCoors’ sponsorship of the NFL.

But in addition to the obvious competitive motivation, the deal reflects an important trend being embraced by both sponsors and major sports properties: the creation of additional events and assets beyond the standard all-star games, playoffs and championships.

In just the past few years, the NHL has launched outdoor games—the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in the U.S. and the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Canada—along with NHL Face-Off season-opening event and a live telecast from Las Vegas of the presentation of the NHL Awards, complete with A-list Hollywood star hosts and performances by big-name musical acts.

“The way the NHL has broadened its platform was very attractive to us,” said Pat McEleney, senior director, events and sponsorship, for Molson Coors Canada.
“We are excited about growing the sport and the opportunity for beer drinkers to get involved with hockey in new ways.”

Both Molson Coors and MillerCoors say they look for ways to activate sponsorship with unique, one-of-a-kind events that afford a platform for sales promotions.

“The opportunity to create new assets and make big events is very valuable to us; we can translate those platforms into retail activation, which helps drive beer sales,” said Ryan Luckey, MillerCoors’ director of sports and entertainment marketing.

Continuing to create new events is integral to the NHL’s growth plans, said Keith Wachtel, the league’s senior vice president of integrated sales.

“It is critical for us not to rest on our laurels. We need to continue to engage fans at the highest level, and to do that you need the support of corporate partners.”

The Molson Canadian brand will be integrated into NHL events but will not receive ownership positioning, said Wachtel, who closed the deal over a one-week period following the January 30 NHL All-Star Game.

The tie builds on Molson Coors’ existing relationship with the sport. The company sponsors all six Canadian NHL teams, five on behalf of Molson Canadian and one, the Montreal Canadiens, on behalf of Molson Export.

While Molson Canadian will take the lead role in the sponsorship in Canada and the U.S., the deal gives the two beer companies the right to involve the Coors Light brand as well.

“This is a unique opportunity to partner with our parent company on an alliance that works great for both of our lead brands. Molson is synonymous with hockey, while Coors Light is about cold refreshment,” Luckey said.

MillerCoors is a joint venture between Molson Coors Brewing Co. and SABMiller plc. Molson Coors owns 42 percent of MillerCoors.

The Canadian rights portion of Bud Light’s current NHL deal is managed through A-B InBev subsidiary Labatt Breweries of Canada, which apparently is not ready to leave without a fight. Labatt reportedly plans to take legal action against the league, claiming it was still negotiating renewal in good faith.

Labatt recently announced new deals set to begin next season with the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.

In the U.S., MillerCoors has existing ties with ten NHL clubs The company sponsors eight teams on behalf of the Coors Light or Miller Lite brands, while two deals involve multiple brands: the Detroit Red Wings (Miller Lite and Molson) and the Colorado Avalanche (Coors Light and Molson).

Most of those deals are non-exclusive. A-B InBev sponsors 22 of the 24 U.S. NHL clubs on behalf of Bud Light.

Molson Coors Canada sponsors national governing body Hockey Canada, the Canadian Football League, five CFL teams and the NBA Toronto Raptors.

MillerCoors ties include NASCAR (Coors Light); title of a Penske Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team (Miller Lite); Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn. (Coors Banquet); and 16 MLB teams and 21 NFL teams on behalf of Coors Light and Miller Lite.