Massachusetts Beverage Business



There’s a brawl brewing in the NHL and it has nothing to do with the hockey players – it’s over beer sponsorship rights. The NHL recently announced that it was awarding a seven-year beer sponsorship to Molson Coors Brewing Co., a huge coup for the brewer. However, Labatt Breweries, which happens to be the Canadian unit of Anheuser-Busch InBev and was the official beer sponsor for the NHL in Canada for more than a decade, quickly announced it was fighting back and would not go quietly. It said it had been negotiating a renewal with the league “in good faith” and that the two sides had agreed upon terms to extend their accord until 2O14. “We have an agreement with the league and are pursuing all legal remedies available to us to enforce the agreement,” said Charlie Angelakos, a vice president with Labatt. Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner of the NHL, said, “Labatt has been and continues to be a terrific partner, but we strongly disagree with their assertion that an agreement was in place for the 2O11/2O12 NHL season.” The 3O-team league said it awarded exclusive sponsorship rights to Molson Coors’s Canadian division and to its US sibling, MillerCoors. The deal, the largest corporate sponsorship in league history, is valued at almost $4OO million over seven years. The agreement calls for Molson Canadian to be the lead brand in the NHL alliance in both Canada and the US, but also will highlight Coors Light, the biggest brand sold by MillerCoors in the US. Molson Coors co-owns MillerCoors with SABMiller. Labatt said that, in addition to its NHL sponsorship in Canada, Anheuser-Busch and its Bud Light brand sponsor 22 of the 24 hockey clubs in the US. Molson Coors and Labatt are the two biggest beer makers in Canada, with each controlling roughly 4O% of the market. The dispute is the latest involving A-B InBev and a major sports league. The brewer’s US unit sued Major League Baseball’s licensing arm in November, claiming that it reneged on a multiyear renewal of sponsorship rights and demanded “exponentially higher” fees. It later dropped the suit after the two sides reached a new pact to continue Budweiser’s role as the league’s official beer. No word on how long this bitter beer battle could go on but the suds might be flying for months to come.

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