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NHL lockout: How long will sponsors hang on through lockout?

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

NHLLockoutWhen all is said and done, the NHL and the NHLPA will be the only ones getting a deal done to end the lockout. That much is obviously fact. But that doesn't mean along the way there won't be external pressures.

There have been plenty of people who assumed nothing would happen without forces from the outside spurring on the talks. What would those forces be? At the top of the list has to be the NHL's advertising sponsors. We all know that money talks and when those sponsors start showing some unrest, the NHL might get the message.

Up until now, everything had been pretty hunky-dory with the NHL's advertisers. They didn't seem too worried. That's to be expected, though. The beginning part of the season, just like it is for many teams, is the least lucrative part of the schedule. There are some who probably didn't mind seeing that time go bye-bye.

But that doesn't hold for all companies. According to Advertising Age, one sponsor hasn't enjoyed the lack of NHL play.

But for a company like Bauer, which targets young hockey players, the early part of the season is more critical because that's when consumers start buying gear. "It's a much bigger loss," Mr. Andrews said.

Because of the lockout, Bauer has withheld digital ad buys on NHL.com and NBCSports.com. Also in doubt is a regional TV ad buy originally slated to air during the Winter Classic in several big hockey markets such as Toronto, Chicago and Boston.

Ah yes, the Winter Classic cancellation. It seems like everything right now is coming back to that decision by the NHL, to pull that from the schedule. Is it a coincidence that the talks have picked back up since the NHL made the announcement? Probably not.

Investing with the NHL -- again, this is just on the American side; it's totally different north of the border -- is a risky venture. The ratings aren't as good as they are for the other big sports in the country, so when sponsors elect to sign up with the league, they probably are a little more upset than advertisers in other sports when there is no product to advertise on. It's unlikely the sponsors would advertise to the world that they aren't happy with the lockout, but the longer it goes on, the more the pressure builds and the NHL will feel it.

In the case of Bauer, perhaps it's not the biggest deal, they have other options. They are obviously in the business of selling hockey equipment and there is still plenty of hockey to advertise with in Canada, so they have secondary options. The other advertisers might not have that same level of flexibility in their ads aimed at hockey audiences.

We can't tell if Bauer is an outlier or a sign of things to come, but it is only reasonable to assume that the longer this drags on, the more sponsors will look to go elsewhere with their money, and the NHL can't afford to lose the sponsors it has considering suitors aren't lining up around the block like voters at your local voting station to sign up with the league.

H/t to Hockey Gear HQ, Dirk Hoag

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @StubitsCBS on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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