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Labatt not going quietly after Molson named NHL’s official beer sponsor

on 24/02/11 at 5:36 pm


Molson Canadian is poised to become the Official Beer of the NHL, but the incumbent will not go quietly.

“Bud and hockey belong together,” said Charlie Angelakos, vice-president of corporate affairs for Labatt Breweries.

Labatt, brewer of Budweiser in Canada, is vowing to “pursue all legal remedies” in the wake of Tuesday’s announcement that Molson Coors brewery in Canada and Miller Coors in the U.S. had signed a seven-year agreement with the NHL for exclusive league rights in the beer sponsorship category, starting in the 2011-12 season.

“Labatt has been the official beer sponsor of the NHL in Canada for more than a decade and we began sponsorship renewal negotiations with the league several months ago to secure sponsorship rights,” Angelakos said. “These negotiations with the NHL proceeded positively and in good faith to the point where the parties had agreed upon the terms of renewal of a sponsorship agreement until 2014. Nothing has happened to change that situation.”

The NHL issued a statement from deputy commissioner Bill Daly, yesterday afternoon in response.

“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 2011-12 NHL season. We have no further comment at this time.”

Molson Coors, for its part, was savouring its coup.

President and chief executive Dave Perkins said he got “a tremendous response” when he announced it yesterday at a company sales conference in Montreal.

“We’re thrilled to be teamed up with the NHL,” Perkins told The Gazette. “It brings a number of new properties into play, including the Heritage Classic and All-Star Game. It broadens our reach.”

Perkins said Molson Coors had individual agreements with the six Canadian NHL teams but not the league sponsorship. Now it has that as well.

Labatt has individual sponsorship deals with 22 of the 24 U.S. teams through affiliated company Anheuser-Busch.

The new deal will make Molson Canadian the official beer of the NHL in most markets, but not all.

Coors Light will have that distinction in some parts of the U.S. while in Quebec, where Molson Canadian is not widely distributed, Molson Export is the chosen one.

It’s the brand long associated with the sport in this province, a Molson spokesperson said.

The NHL deal is the latest in a flurry of developments at Molson Coors, which has kept a relatively low profile in Quebec since the merger with Adolph Coors Co. in 2005.

Over the past weekend, 850 unionized employees of the Montreal brewery approved a seven-year contract that Perkins said will give the company “seven years of certainty.”

Molson Coors promptly announced a $46.7-million investment in its Montreal operations and then the NHL deal, which one media report pegged at $375 million.

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