Varsity hockey boosts profile

After decades of carrying a low profile, Canadian university hockey is making moves to score big with fans and sponsors.The Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union is switching its 1992-93 Nationals University Cup hockey final, scheduled to take place in March, from Varsity...

After decades of carrying a low profile, Canadian university hockey is making moves to score big with fans and sponsors.

The Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union is switching its 1992-93 Nationals University Cup hockey final, scheduled to take place in March, from Varsity Arena at the University of Toronto to Maple Leaf Gardens, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Television coverage of the preceding hockey season has also been increased.

The Sports Network plans to televise six games this season, twice as many as last season.

And for the first time, Jim Calder, general manager of the ciau’s hockey and Vanier Cup football programs, says the sponsorship package the ciau is offering to potential advertisers will include tv advertising.

Calder says he hopes the recent makeover of the Nationals tournament will make it more attractive to corporate sponsors.

‘It’s the old metaphor of the fish only being able to grow as large as the pond it swims in,’ he says.

In the past, the Nationals – and the young adults the games attract – have drawn sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Labatt Breweries of Canada, Sports Canada and Procter & Gamble.

For the 1992-93 ciau hockey season, Calder has a list of companies it is close to signing deals with, among them Labatt, London Life, Humpty Dumpty, Esso and General Motors of Canada.

Sponsors can buy three packages, ranging in price from $16,000 to $65,000.

A ‘basic’ package consists of board signage, game programs and schedule ads, logos and tickets.

A ‘major’ package includes the title of a specific event, a four-color ad in 100,000 copies of the ciau’s preview book, exposure on schedule cards, plus all the basic package items.

New this year is the ‘super’ package, which features most of the components of the major package plus tv spots.

Calder, who notes the ciau’s 1992-93 advertising budget of $460,000 is twice the previous year’s, says the athletic union’s efforts to raise awareness of university-level hockey are similar to its earlier efforts to improve the profile of university football.

Four years ago, the Vanier Cup, which is the championship game of the university football season, was switched from Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, which seats 18,000, to the city’s new 50,100-seat SkyDome.

Calder says that since the change in venue took place, fan support for the football final has grown dramatically from an average of 13,000 per game at Varsity Stadium to 30,000 per game at the SkyDome.

He says he hopes to see the SkyDome attendance figures increase gradually to 50,000 in five years.

Similarly, he expects hockey attendance figures will climb with the move to the 15,800-seat Gardens.

Calder predicts next spring’s final should draw about 8,000-plus fans, with further increases each year thereafter.

Previous championships held at Varsity Arena, such as the 1992 final that saw eight-time champion University of Alberta defeat Nova Scotia’s Acadia University have drawn a maximum of 4,200 fans.

Down the road, Calder would like to see more competition between Canadian and u.s. teams in order to boost college hockey’s image.

In the past, there have been only sporadic tournaments such as the Duracell Challenge.

‘The goal of the ciau advisory committee is to create an annual invitational tournament featuring top u.s. and Canadian schools,’ Calder says.

David Wilkinson of The Wilkinson Group, a Toronto-based event marketing firm, says the ciau is doing a good job of improving its image and marketing.

But Wilkinson cautions there are many sporting events available now, and as a result, sponsors are moving away from athletic events and are getting into other areas.

‘It isn’t good enough to just put together a good package,’ he says. ‘I’d be very aware of what the corporate community wants.’

‘People don’t buy sponsorships just for the sponsorship. The exposure and the tv, the tickets, the souvenir programs – that’s just the start of their buy.’

He says advertisers then develop promotional activity around the event, including poin-of-purchase material, contests or sweepstakes and trade promotions.

‘That’s the dilemma everyone in the event community faces,’ Wilkinson says.

‘They can have the greatest event in the world, but if they don’t integrate it into much deeper communication strategies, people won’t buy into it,’ he says.