Nestle’s breakaway deal with the NHL

The CPG co. is kicking off it's first-ever partnership with the association by immersing its hero confectionary brand Kit Kat into commercial breaks.
Brent Burns Image

In the 14 years that Kyle McMann has handled sponsorships at the NHL, there haven’t been many instances where a new brand partner comes to the first meet-and-greet with fleshed out ideas.

However, he can confidently say that about Nestlé, the association’s latest sponsor and official chocolate of the NHL in Canada, beginning today.

“There was a great degree of thought that had already happened [before the first meeting], which was so refreshing for us,” says McMann, the league’s SVP, North American business development and global partnerships. “The [Nestlé] team saw how the [partnership] could work for their hero brand – and that got our teams immediately aligned and figuring out how to tailor the property… It just short-circuits things and moves us forward into a really productive discussion.”

If only hockey itself hadn’t been abruptly short-circuited in the spring – perhaps the measured media activation that the Nestlé and NHL teams were able to parcel together would have gone to market as quickly as it was devised. But, finally, on Aug. 1, after months of waiting out COVID lockdowns, Nestlé will reveal its “Big Breakaway Contest” and supporting campaign, featuring Brent Burns, the Canadian-born defenseman for the San Jose Sharks, encouraging fans to enter to win an ultimate Stanley Cup experience.

The “Big Breakaway Contest” will also see viewers win daily prizes, including NHL gift cards and co-branded merchandise. Beyond in-store marketing, Kit Kat will have all the standard bells and whistles of a big CPG co. hockey TV sponsorship, including media dollars tied to the NHL’s controlled inventory and ads during Rogers’ Sportsnet telecast of the playoffs to promote the contest, says McMann.

McMann adds that Kit Kat was also part of the Heritage Classic last fall, and will have a presence in the program again in the seasons ahead, as the partnership deal is planned for several years. There is potential for other Nestle brands to tap the NHL, says McMann, adding that Nestlé is considering ways to broaden the sponsorship to other parts of its portfolio, including frozen pizza and ice-cream – much like how deals are structured with other NHL partners, such as PepsiCo and Kraft.

“Confectionery is a highly impulsive category and partnerships that resonate strongly with Canadians, such as the NHL, create many opportunities for our brands,” says Tracey Cooke, VP, marketing and communication at Nestlé, pointing to plans for the brand to activate and create content around marquee NHL events, develop co-branded products and other types of giveaways. “Hockey is a big part of the fabric of Canadian culture and with so many of our products produced right here in Canada, we felt that this partnership was a perfect way to leverage two strong Canadian brands.”

If the “breakaway” approach sounds familiar, it’s likely because Nestlé has been playing off of its iconic “Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat” tag in sponsor activations around another sport for quite some time. The “Have a Halftime” campaign for the NFL, which has been running since 2016, also drives fans to engage with the brand via contesting, where it similarly encourages Canadians to take a break during football games to enter to win an ultimate Super Bowl experience.