Molson raising fan banners in NHL rinks

Even though the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season is off to an inauspicious start, there will definitely be a banner raising at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena in 2022.

It’s part of the “Molson Hall of Fan,” a fan-themed promotion created by Molson Coors Canada for its Canadian and Export brands that will also see fan appreciation banners raised at the Montreal Canadien’s Bell Centre and Edmonton Oilers’ Rogers Place.

The program is emblematic of the shift away from the “presented by…” model that has characterized sports sponsorships for years, said Brian Collins, senior manager, sports and entertainment partnerships at Molson Coors Canada in Toronto.

“It won’t happen overnight, but we’re going to continue to evolve,” said Collins. “We’re not in the sponsorship game, we’re in the partnership game.”

The new social-led program is being promoted across each of the three teams’ websites until Nov. 15, with fans invited to nominate themselves or a fellow fan to be enshrined in the Molson Hall of Fan by submitting a short written response along with a photo and/or video showing their passion for the three Molson-sponsored teams.

It is being further supported by in-arena messaging, and Molson Coors has enlisted former NHL players including the Leafs’ Darcy Tucker, former Hab Guillaume Latendresse, and the Oilers’ Shayne Corson to promote the program to their followers.

Submissions will be reviewed throughout November and December, with the banner-raising ceremony taking place in January.

Details are still being finalized, but the prize is expected to include a delivery from team alumni, as well as a specialty suite to watch the game on their induction night, and possibly an on-ice ceremony, said Collins. “It will be a night they will never forget in their home arena,” he said.

The fan banners will be of a “significant size,” but won’t be near actual championship banners, said Collins. “That’s very sacred [space].”

Instead, Molson will turn over its dedicated space within the arenas—including Scotiabank Arena’s Molson Canadian Brewhouse, or Rogers Place’s Molson Hockey House—to the Hall of Fan.

The fan banners will be permanently displayed within the space, and it’s expected that new inductees will be honoured each year, said Collins. “We’d love to be able to continue showcasing the great fanbases for each of our three teams,” he said, noting that he’s anticipating thousands of responses to the promotion.

Collins said that sports sponsorships are increasingly geared towards creating “memorable connections” between fans and brands, facilitated by a shared connection with the sports team. “Gone are the days of throwing a logo up on a rinkboard or digital screen and saying ‘Hey look, we’re connected to the team,'” he said. “We’re doing something to stand out, and really make something that ties in directly with our brands. It allows us to break through in a very cluttered environment when it comes to partnerships.”

Another Molson Coors Canada brand, Coors Light, is also activating against the Toronto Raptors’ return home after a more than 600-day road-trip that included a brief stay in the NBA Bubble at Disney World, followed by spending the 2020-21 season at Tampa’s Amalie Arena.

The brand has partnered with Toronto’s Peace Collective to create the “Homecoming Collection”—a varsity-inspired clothing line that includes jackets, hoodies, and crewnecks. The items contain visual references to both the Raptors and the Coors Light brand, although Collins said they’re designed in a way that doesn’t turn wearers into a “walking billboard.”

“This isn’t your traditional $2 T-shirt,” he said.

The partnership is a natural fit between the brand and the team, said Collins. The NBA is an image-conscious league, and its young, urban fans have an affinity for the streetwear contained in the collection. “It doesn’t feel like it’s coming out of left field,” he said. “It feels authentic to our consumers and of course Raptors fans.”

It’s not the first time that Coors Light Canada has dabbled in clothing. It introduced a weighted Raptors hoodie for stressed-out fans earlier this year, and also partnered with Team LTD on a line of branded Summer Tuxedos. It is giving away items in the “Homecoming Collection” through the online store launched in August 2020, as well as an in-arena giveaway scheduled for Nov. 5.

Both promotions are representative of Molson Coors’ attempts to connect with fans around culturally relevant moments, said Collins. “We’re putting this at the forefront of all our partnerships,” he said. “When people hold a Molson Canadian, Export or Coors Light we want them to be proud to say ‘This is my beer and this is my team.'”

Chris Powell