The Stanley Cup (Advertising) Finals

Stanley Cup (Advertising) Final


I love hockey and like most hockey fans, I’ve been actively following the NHL playoffs, including the Stanley Cup finals that started at the end of May. While watching the finals, I couldn’t help but notice some of the advertisements that played during the intermissions and the three commercial breaks each period. I sat through the standard beer commercials (Bud Light, Miller Lite, Amstel Light to name a few) and the US military commercials (Army, Marines) without paying much attention, but then some Cisco commercials came up. These commercials were a bit of a surprise to me, since I wouldn’t expect a strong overlap of between hockey fans and videoconferencing enthusiasts.  I also remembered that Cisco heavily advertises on the website.

As I watched more and more of these Cisco commercials, with about one appearing during each commercial break, I became very curious about why Cisco would choose the SC finals to advertise their new products. I decided to look into the demographics of NHL fans to see if Cisco knew something I didn’t. Not surprisingly, they did: the makeup of the NHL fanbase.

Armed with some good starting data and a little curiosity, I decided to go a step further and compare the likely target audiences of the most prevalent ads during the SC Finals to the NHL fanbase and determine how good of a “fit” they each really were.  What follows is my search for the “Stanley Cup (Advertisement) Champion.”

The Facts

NHL Demographics: It turns out that the average household income of an NHL fan is almost $89,000. Additionally NHL fans are younger and more tech savvy than the fans of the other major US sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL). The full description of NHL fan demographics can be found, courtesy of Experian Consumer Research.

2009 Stanley Cup Viewer Numbers: I’m only looking at the numbers for the games on NBC, although some can also see the games on Versus. Game 1: 4.36 mil, Game 2: 5.33 mil, Game 5: 4.28 mil, Game 6: 5.45 mil. This results in an average of about 4.86 million viewers per game.

The Competitors (Advertisers)

I chose to examine advertisers who have had their commercials appear frequently and consistently in games 1 through 5.

Light Beers

Three main light beers have been advertised so far during the finals: Miller Lite (the not-so-funny “Taste Protection” commercials with the mafia), Bud Light (and their “Party Boat”), and Amstel Light (with their use of the incredibly catchy intro of “Chelsea Dagger” that is still stuck in my head).

The general belief is that men tend to drink beer more than women and that this margin decreases slightly when it comes to light beer. This belief is actually based in fact. Not only that but most of the consumers of light beer are younger, being between 21 and 44 years old. Therefore, NHL fans are a particularly good match. They’re younger than the audiences of the other sports and probably more likely to drink light beer.

Potential Customers Reached: Based on the data from the above survey combined with the NHL demographics information and 4.66 million views (average views of Games 1, 2, 5, 6), the light beer companies are reaching 851,896 potential customers.

Verizon Wireless

I’m sure pretty much every NHL fan is aware of Verizon Wireless’s commercials, since they’ve been running them for around a year. They use the tagline “Hockey fans aren’t like other fans” and advertise Verizon’s VCAST option to watch the game via a person’s cellphone. Ignoring the fact that the commercials are specifically tailored to NHL fans, the product itself is actually a pretty good fit with the fanbase. This is based on the fact that NHL fans are more “tech savvy” than the fans of other sports and would be more likely to try out this technology.

Potential Customers Reached: Based on this Harris survey which states that 89% of people in the United States have cell phones, Verizon Wireless is reaching at least 4.3 million potential customers. However, this number is most likely higher since NHL fans are younger and more tech savvy (and therefore more likely to use cellphones).


For this one, I’m going to focus on the US Army in particular, though the information is applicable to the other military service branches as well. First, some facts: the average enlistment age for the US Army is 21.3 years old, most soldiers are male, and the average term of service for a new recruit is about 4 years (data from here).

This information actually matches up surprisingly well with NHL fan demographics. Because NHL fans are relatively young, the Army ads are tapping into a concentrated base of recruitment prospects. However, one dilemma is the fit for household income of new recruits is not quite ideal for the NHL fanbase. According to a study conducted by Tim Kane (p.5 for the chart), the majority of new recruits have a household income between $30,000 and $50,000. However, the household income of the average NHL fan is double that range, being estimated at about $89,000.

Potential Customers Reached: Since about 52% of the NHL fanbase meets the age qualification for military service, the Army/Military is reaching 2.52 million potential recruits. However, based on the data from the DoD, which states that there are 3 million people in the US military, and US Census data, only about 2.88% of the qualified population is actually in the military. Applied to the above number of potential recruits, you get a more realistic number of about 72,700.

Those “Visit Canada” Commercials

When I first saw these commercials, I was almost insulted, thinking “Just because I’m a hockey fan and hockey is really popular in Canada doesn’t mean that I want to visit the county.” Regardless what you take away from them, however, what these commercials do tell you is that Canada is trying to increase tourism to its country and is doing so through television ads.
Based on the results of this Canadian study, most visitors to Canada are older, with 59.7% of tourists to the country being older than 45. 77.4% are likely to use the internet to at least plan and investigate their trip, which implies some affinity towards technology and the average household income is $89,289. Additionally, 52.7% of tourists to Canada are male.

Although the age group does not fit particularly well with the estimated age breakdown of NHL fans, the technological affinity, gender, and household income match up very well with the profile of the NHL fanbase. However, it is also possible that age plays an important part in whether one does or does not take a vacation to Canada. If that is true, then the commercials are definitely reaching a less-than-ideal audience.

Potential Customers Reached: Using the numbers from the above survey, and the breakdown of age groups provided from the NHL fan demographics study, Canada is reaching 827,392 potential tourists.


As shocked as I initially was to see Cisco advertising during the SC finals, the commercials themselves actually pretty amusing and clever. However, the real concern is who exactly Cisco is attempting to target with these advertisements and whether or not Cisco is reaching their desired audience.

The commercials themselves are advertising some new products that Cisco created to allow people to work together over long distances, allowing companies to cut down on their traveling expenses. The target audience for these products is most likely those with high income, who are more likely to have a more influential position in their company (based on the fact that higher positions = higher pay), as well as people who are willing to adopt new technology (aka: “tech savvy” people).

As described above, the NHL has both the most tech savvy and wealthiest fans. Therefore, based on these two target characteristics, advertising to NHL fans seem like the logical choice, at least when compared to the other major league sports teams in the United States.

Potential Customers Reached: A lot. The NHL fanbase is a near perfect fit for Cisco’s new products.

The Winner

The 2008-2009 Stanley Cup (Advertisement) Champion:It was a tough competition with a lot of strong competitors, but in the end I declare the winner to be Cisco. A high overlap with fan demographics, combined with products that have a particularly high price point, gives me the sense that Cisco is truly capitalizing on the spending and purchase-decision-making power of the NHL audience and therefore generating the strongest returns from their advertising investment.


  1. Mark
    Posted June 12, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Excellent article. Interesting brain candy for the fans, and well founded in your research.

  2. Eric
    Posted June 12, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    But I still don’t have a firm understanding of “why” Cisco is targeting that demographic…sure the hockey fan makes more money than the typical fan of say MLB/NFL/NBA…but anecdotally I’d suspect that the average Formula1 fan makes more money than the typical NASCAR fan (sure flame me over that typecasting..I deserve it), but Im not seeing Cisco targeting the F1 fan on Fox’s coverage of the F1 races..and F1 is a fairly technologically advanced sport heavily steepd with superior IT. Are hockey fans more likely to be IT folks, holed up in ice cold datacenters across the continent? Food for thought?

  3. Posted June 12, 2009 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    An interesting piece with some cool data! Great job!

  4. cheryllryan
    Posted June 13, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink


    To answer your question, I do not know the exact reasoning behind why Cisco chose to advertise during a sports program, and I still am a little bit confused as to why Cisco made that decision. However, I think another look at demographic information can help provide a theory for the reason.

    Rather than comparing statistics between sports, we can look at the US population as a whole. In the US, average household income is around $50,000, well below the NHL fan’s average household income. If you add that to the fact that the NHL fanbase also has an above average affinity toward technology and is more willing to adopt new technology, which makes the segment very valuable for tech-related products.

    I hesitate to say that NHL fans are people in IT since there is no information to prove that theory. Instead, I’d like to reference a statement in my post where I said that higher income might imply a more influential position in a company (and therefore more decision-making power), which is undoubtedly who Cisco is trying to reach. As such, it is possible that Cisco might have gotten a rather attractive offer for advertising during the SC Final, especially since hockey is not exactly the most popular professional sport in the United States. To refer to your NASCAR and F1 example, it is possible that, for the number of individuals reached, it is not worth Cisco’s money to attempt to target those fans and that the games during the SC Final happened to provide them “the most bang for their buck.”

    I hope that explanation at least partly answers your question.

  5. Sean
    Posted June 24, 2009 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Great article. I am researching the NHL and potential sponsors and am wondering where to get more NHL demographics.

  6. cheryllryan
    Posted June 24, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink


    Unfortunately I could not find any additional useful NHL fan demographics data besides the Experian Consumer Research report that I linked to in the post.

    However, I do know that the NHL keeps track of the demographics of their fans in order for them to provide information for potential sponsors. Depending on how soon you need the data, you may want to consider contacting them to see if they would be willing to provide you with the information. I’m not sure how accessible their media people are, but you can find their contact information here:

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