Northstar Research Examines Hockey in Canada

A new study from Toronto’s Northstar Research Partners is providing insight on how fans of all ages perceive both the NHL’s on-ice product and its advertising partners, particularly during the peak playoff period. The results are based on a series of focus groups conducted with male and female hockey fans between the ages of 18 and 49, as well as an online survey with a representative sample of 600 Canadian hockey viewers.

According to the study, the four brands identified as having the strongest connection to hockey are (in order): Tim Hortons, Molson, Canadian Tire and Scotiabank. Angela Muzzo, Northstar’s executive vice-presiden, said brands like Molson and Canadian Tire scored well among respondents because of their longstanding association with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, but Tim Hortons’ association with HNIC and long involvement with the sport at a grassroots level helped propel it into the top spot.

“As soon as you say Hockey Night in Canada, the names Molson and Canadian Tire come to mind,” said Muzzo. “But when you say ‘hockey’ and ‘Canada,’ that’s when Tim Hortons comes to mind because of all of its community involvement in hockey. Tim Hortons has done a really good job of showcasing who Canadians are, and hockey is a part of that.” Tim Hortons is leading all NHL sponsors in ad recall during the Stanley Cup playoffs, with aided recall of 53%. McDonald’s garnered 42% aided recall, followed by Molson (31%), Canadian Tire (28%), Budweiser (24%), Visa (23%), Coca-Cola (21%) and Scotiabank (19%).

The study also suggests that women are an untapped advertising demographic for the NHL, with 82% of women indicating they follow the sport on a regular basis. Despite indicating that they are more distracted than men while watching, the study found that women are able to recall in-game advertisers even though there are relatively few female-focused brands advertising during the playoffs.

Among the study’s other key findings about women viewers:

• They use hockey to connect with friends and participate in an activity that brings their families together (75% of games are watched with family)

• Women view the NHL as an escape (67% of avid fans, 41% of general population fans), an emotion-packed experience (79% of avid fans, 62% of general population fans) and are just as likely as men to lose their inhibitions during a game

• Avid female hockey fans are less likely than men to think of the sport as “too aggressive”

The study also suggests that advertisers consider using “distinct strategies” to target males across different age groups. While brands covet men aged 18-29, they are often harder to reach, even during a high-interest event such as the NHL playoffs. The study found men in this age range have a lower recall of NHL sponsors and brands because they often watch the games with friends and are distracted as a result.

The study says that brands may have more success reaching younger men through digital platforms. Young men are more likely than older males to visit both the official NHL website (56% of young males versus 31% of older males) and the league’s official Facebook page (39% versus 19%). The study also found that younger men are “highly active” in social media conversations around hockey and the NHL, comprising almost two thirds of related traffic.

Older men aged 40-55 comprise the largest NHL audience, 41%, and their devotion to the league leads them to watch the game along so they can devote their full attention. Men over 40 are able to recall advertising at a higher rate than their younger counterparts and had the highest recall for the league’s major sponsors (they were able to recall three sponsors versus two for younger men). It is a group best targeted through in-game advertising, the study says, because only 10% engage in social media.


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