As part of our interview blog series at Jersey Watch, we had the privilege to connect with Rishi Lal from the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) to get an international perspective on sponsorship, brand activation and where the future is heading with properties like the CHL.
Describe your current role with the CHL?
I’m currently the National Director of Brand Partnerships with the CHL. My job is to help national and regional brands leverage our almost 10 million fans across 60 teams/communities across Canada and the USA.
Why do brands and businesses choose to partner with the CHL?
Great question, it really boils down to brands truly wanting to be connected with our clubs and fan base at the local. grassroots level. Our clubs are so ingrained within our communities that brands can share in this passion to accomplish a number of their business and community objectives.
What sponsorship assets are most sought after by clients?
The traditional “off the shelf” assets like rinkboards, TV Timeout activities and national commercials are still in high demand, but what we’re finding now is a lot of brands want us to come back to them with fresh ideas that are distinctly ownable to them. As many in the industry can attest, many of our leagues and teams have a tremendous amount of sponsor clutter and forward thinking brands are always on the look out for unique and engaging ways to connect with their fan base. If we can provide this to them, it becomes not so much about presenting a proposal, as much as its presenting a valid business case, which makes buy-in from the brand much easier.
What we’ve found that works is associating brands with content that our fans are already passionate about. By associating them with this content, we can not only guarantee positive engagement but also a lift in brand opinion as well, which, in my mind, is more important then tallying impressions as a metric for success.
Do you have any philosophies to share on sponsorship ROI and ways you measure value for your clients?
Each brand is so different in how they measure success in a partnership that I’d be doing a disservice to name one or two. However, I do believe it is absolutely imperative to map out, at the beginning, of a partnership what success looks like, whatever that may be. This gives the property and league a clear path to how they will be evaluated and allows them to refine and optimize as needed during the partnership
Can you describe one of your more unique sponsorship activation deals over the past few seasons?
To help one of our partners shift brand opinion, we created a “Guest Services” brand ambassador in each of our sponsored buildings to help provide enhanced service for our fans. We have never done this before so we are extremely excited to see the results for the upcoming season. For us, it boils down to listening to what our partners want and trying to find fun and engaging ways to act upon their needs.
How does the CHL work digital technology into sponsorships? Where do you see this going?
As a league that has four separate websites, digital is a huge part of what we do. Our sites account for over 200 million page views and our social numbers are excellent. Almost every package we put together has a robust digital component as it provides a direct link to our fans.
Does the CHL incorporate youth assets into their packages?
As a league that has such strong roots within the communities we play in, youth programs are absolutely key to what we do as a league. We sponsor a number of youth tournaments, we even help with selling regional partnerships for some of these events. Also, our players make regular appearances at local schools, help with local charities and work local tournaments.
Where do you see the future heading with sports sponsorship sales?
Ownable pieces of content or programming. We need to create programs that are tailor-made for brands so much so that they have to believe that they’ve found a marketing soul mate in our property that completely understands what they are trying to accomplish.