`One helluva buy’

.1At least one clear winner has emerged from the recent hockey troubles.But, it's neither the National Hockey League Players Association nor the owners.Instead, it is an advertiser that, in the second week of December, decided to buy advertising time on the...

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At least one clear winner has emerged from the recent hockey troubles.

But, it’s neither the National Hockey League Players Association nor the owners.

Instead, it is an advertiser that, in the second week of December, decided to buy advertising time on the cbc’s Molson Hockey Night in Canada – despite the lockout and the consequent absence of nhl games.

Peter Kretz, general manager of marketing and sales at cbc tv in Toronto, will not reveal the name of the company that bought the time, but, he will admit, the advertiser ‘got a helluva buy out of us.’

Thanks to some astute salesmanship, and a gamble that paid off, Kretz says the advertiser has bought time – at two-thirds off the regular price – on regular Saturday night Molson Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts and during the playoffs.

The cbc’s major Molson Hockey Night in Canada advertisers, such as Molson Breweries and Ford Motor Co. of Canada, ‘all hung in’ with the public network, says Kretz, assessing the state of the 103-day lockout and its impact on their advertising week-by-week.

Not only option

Although there is no doubt these advertisers would have liked Molson Hockey Night in Canada – one of the most watched programs in the country – to have started on schedule, Kretz points out the cbc was not their only advertising option.

tsn, the other major broadcaster of nhl games, also found its major advertisers, such as Chrysler Canada, Pepsi-Cola Canada, Midas and Thrifty Rent-A-Car, stayed with the network.

Jim Shepherd, director of client services for the Toronto-based all-sports broadcaster, says, unlike cbc, which could offer its advertisers a broad range of alternative programming, tsn had to find other hockey games and televised sports as replacements.

cbc, in a much publicized strategy, opted to run major u.s. movies Saturday nights during much of the nhl lockout, but, on Saturday, Jan. 1, began running ‘vintage’ hockey games.

Kretz says the Jan. 7 broadcast of the 1979 Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens playoff game drew a million viewers.

He says advertisers who bought time on that program did so for two-thirds of the regular Molson Hockey Night in Canada price.

Where both networks suffered was with short flights of advertising or spot buys.

Kretz says some advertisers just saved their money, others took their advertising elsewhere, and, still more, sought and were given credit.

Shepherd says the lockout cost tsn appreciable spot sales, citing as an example the period before Christmas when the retail sector switches into high gear.

Significant drop

He says, as well, that even when tsn was able to plug the hockey gap with games from the International Hockey League or the American Hockey League, there was a significant audience drop.

However, there was one bright spot.

According to Shepherd, tsn ‘drew huge numbers’ during broadcasts of the World Junior Hockey Championships, which began airing on Boxing Day.

Still, whether those fans who watched Canada go 7-0 to win the World Junior gold medal will flock back to nhl telecasts remains to be seen.

Kretz believes there will not be any lasting damage.

He points to the size of the audiences CBC Newsworld drew with its reports of player-owner negotiations as evidence the Canadian appetite for hockey is near insatiable.

No long-term harm

Like his cbc colleague, Shepherd does not anticipate any long-term harm resulting from the lockout either, nor does he believe there will be any lingering fan alienation, something that would be much more problematic for tsn than cbc.

bbdo in Toronto is less optimistic than either Kretz or Shepherd.

In a document asking, ‘Can Hockey Fans be Repatriated,’ Tom Batho, the agency’s vice-president and group media director, says his shop believes the lockout will have a negative impact on tv audiences for the 1995-96 season, although he adds the fact hockey is this country’s sport will help minimize audience erosion.

Batho cites a compas national survey conducted Jan. 3-6 to gauge hockey fans’ intention to watch televised games.

The survey found 80% of Atlantic fans intend to watch, but only 66% of fans in Quebec intend to.

In Ontario, 75% of fans will tune in, and 69% of them will watch in b.c. On the Prairies, however, fans’ intention to watch plummets to 57%.