Isles, Pens, Blaze New Brand Trails…

NHL teams will begin training camp this week, so it comes as no surprise that teams are looking for ways to find new revenue streams as the 2011-2012 season, one which may not have the backdrop of NBA competition against it for eyeballs and dollars. Therefore it was refreshing to see two teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders, blaze new paths for sponsorship categories in the past few weeks.

Now splitting up categories is nothing new. The just-finished US Open was the best at finding new ways to carve the sponsorship dollar, taking a financial category and splitting it into bank, financial services, online services and any other way the most lucrative category could be divvied up. However the Pens and Isles went a different route, creating a whole new category that maybe other teams could follow.

Pittsburgh signed a deal with local apparel company Crons to be their “Official Motivational Company” as well as supplying the team with youth jerseys and other product and promotions. While the Crons brand (Come Ready Or Never Start) is based around motivating young people with goals-oriented programs, at the end of the day their core business is quality apparel. So Pittsburgh found a great mix to bring in a new business partner without endangering any other official licensees, and serve a youth market that had been underserved. Then there are the Islanders, one of the most woebegone franchises in sport. Still with their player issues, ticket issues, arena issues, ownership issues, media issues, the team still found a way to pull in some ink, by signing a local tatoo parlor, Tatoo Lous, as the teams first-ever official tattoo sponsor. The deal calls for some fun nights and branding but more importantly got the team some national ink (no pun intended) at a time when few people were thinking Islanders hockey.

Now does an Official tattoo damage or cheapen a brand or could it have much dollar value? Hard to say, given the state of the Islanders brand. It does create a new category and may open the door for some other sub-categories than most professional teams would not want to try, but it did get exposure. It also helped a local company, which when trying to build back a tarnished reputation is not a terrible thing either. The deal differs from the Crons deal with the Penguins, which has a new category but hard dollars and long term planning against it, but both deals did cut new areas of creative sponsorship. Either way, the two NHL teams found a way to make some noise in the sports business going into the preseason, and by cutting through the end of summer clutter they both deserve a few points on creativity.