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Hockeyville returns after lockout hiatus

Kraft's popular marketing program is back in January, with some 2,700 retail outlets participating

There was no joy in Hockeyville last year after the NHL lockout forced Kraft Canada to suspend its Kraft Hockeyville marketing program. However, the packaged goods giant confirmed last week that the popular event is returning for its eighth iteration in January.

Kraft introduced the return of Hockeyville last week by transforming a downtown Montreal parking lot that was once the site of the Victoria Skating Rink (recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation in 2008 as the birthplace of organized hockey) into an outdoor rink.

The program invites communities across Canada to compete for the title of Hockeyville for a chance to win arena upgrades and the opportunity to host a pre-season NHL game. This year’s program will award 16 communities a total of $1 million in arena upgrades.

Jack Hewitt, vice-president of marketing insight and services for Kraft Canada in Toronto, calls Hockeyville one of the company’s “signature events,” with the majority of its brand portfolio participating in some way. This year’s iteration will feature an emphasis on Kraft’s four marquee brands: Maxwell House, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Kraft Peanut Butter and Kraft Dinner.

Those four brands will be prominent in all point-of-sale, magazine and TV advertising said Hewitt. “One of the things we want is for consumers to recognize the power of our individual brands and how they contribute to the program,” he said.

Hockeyville has transcended its origins as a marketing program to become a brand unto itself, with its own brand manager and an agency assignment (handled by Anomaly). “We measure ourselves on a scorecard across a number of different attributes,” said Hewitt. “It’s no different than a brand.”

It is tracked across several metrics including gross revenue, number of stores featuring Hockeyville signage and PR impressions (more than 300 million in its previous incarnation). Hewitt called it a key contributor to all of Kraft’s success measures, including share and revenue. He said that sales of Kraft products typically increase between 3%-6% when the program is in market.

Between 2,500 and 2,700 retail locations are expected to participate in the program, ranging from large grocery chains like Loblaws to small independents.

Asked why Hockeyville has been such a durable venture for Kraft, Hewitt said that it is fueled by the consumer insight about the relationship between Canadians and their local rink.

According to a survey commissioned by Kraft, 91% of Canadian hockey parents said that their local rink is the social hub of their community, but two-thirds feel the arenas need repairs and/or upgrades. “Most of the public arenas were built in the Centennial year <1967> and we’re coming up on 50 years,” said Hewitt.

Kraft will bring Hockeyville to life on TV and social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter (@hockeyville) and a dedicated website. It will be a second period sponsor for both games on CBC Television’s Hockey Night in Canada.

Kraft has also brought aboard former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wendel Clark as one of the Kraft Hockeyville ambassadors, joining former Montreal Canadiens defenseman Patrice Brisebois.

View video of Hockeyville below:

This article originally appeared in Marketing magazine.

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