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A-B, NHL Up Digital Investment

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NEW YORK Anheuser-Busch has re-upped its sponsorship as the official beer (Bud Light) of the National Hockey League through the 2010-11 season, increasing its ad spend for digital in the process.

The U.S. contract renewal coincides with the resigning of Labatt, which markets and distributes Bud Light in Canada, giving the brand category exclusivity and a brand presence in-game and at the retail level in North America.

"The NHL continues to put out a great product year after year and is doing a fine job of using new marketing platforms to connect with its fans," said Tony Ponturo, vp of global media and sports marketing at Anheuser-Busch. "This is especially true of the digital space, which is a shared point of emphasis for Bud Light."

The game changer in a stepped-up presence points to how much online advertising has come to be valued in the marketplace.

According to Larry Gelfand, svp of media sales at the NHL, through discussions with the brewer, it is apparent that "they want to continue to rely on the Internet as a primary means to communicate with their demographic." The deal, he said, includes a significant budget increase for nhl.com in the U.S. and Canada. Gelfand declined to provide a dollar amount or percentage on the increase.

The league has emphasized building its online presence. In April, it relaunched its broadband player, formerly called NHL Network TV, renaming it NHL Network Online, to more closely align with the content on the league-owned cable channel, NHL Network.

Gelfand stressed relevancy within the digital medium that extends beyond programming into events the league hosts, such as its Winter Classic and the NHL All-Star Game. "You'll see tremendous coverage on the Web at nhl.com and all of its broadband properties. So, what we are enabling Anheuser-Busch to do is be front and center of that experience as it's covered on the Web," he said.

Gelfand also noted that the NHL provides programming pre-, during and post-events, which was another attractive feature to Anheuser-Busch. "When we've demonstrated that we're enabling fans to interact with the content in a meaningful way, it's convinced them that this is something very exciting because to them, they want to be where people are consuming media unique to the online marketplace," he said.