There may still be some debate over who will go first overall in the 2010 Entry Draft later this week, but as far as two major NHL suppliers are concerned, Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin are both No. 1.
Bauer Hockey and Easton Hockey both say they got their man, as the equipment companies signed the players to head-to-toe endorsement contracts – Seguin with Bauer and Hall with Easton.
Seguin has agreed to wear Bauer equipment on-ice beginning with the 2010-11 NHL season, and will work with the company's development team to contribute to future product direction. He will also be featured in Bauer's global marketing efforts, joining the likes of Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos and Eric Staal.
Hall has commited to Easton under a similar arrangement to wear and market Easton gear and participate in the brand's global marketing campaign, “Confidence is Everything.” Hall will also be involved in the development of future equipment designs, the company says. Easton's other signature endorsees include Marian Gaborik, Henrik Zetterberg and Mike Cammalleri.
Terms of the deals were not disclosed, but both are believed to be multi-year, six-figure agreements.
“Tyler is obviously one of the top young players in the world,” says Kevin Davis, president and CEO of Bauer Hockey. “More importantly, he is a player who embodies everything that has made Bauer the number one brand in hockey.”
Over at the Easton camp, president Chris Zimmerman – formerly president of the Vancouver Canucks and CEO of Nike Bauer Hockey before that – is similarly impressed.
“Taylor Hall is the most exciting prospect to come to the NHL in a long time, he's going to be an absolute star,” he says.
Top-ranked prospects signing endorsement deals before they're drafted, let alone playing a single professional game, has become almost an annual event leading up to the draft. Last year, top pick John Tavares and second overall Victor Hedman both penned contracts with Reebok-CCM before they were selected by the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively. The company signed both players to long-term, head-to-toe endorsement deals for on- and off-ice product. Tavares represents CCM, while Hedman endorses Reebok. In Tavares's case, the arrangement includes his own apparel line, while Hedman has footwear bearing his name in his native Sweden.
Reebok-CCM made Sidney Crosby the face of the then new Reebok Hockey brand while he was still playing for the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, signing the eventual 2005 first overall pick to a long-term deal paying him a reported US$500,000 per year. That deal originally involved head-to-toe on-ice equipment and a casual and athetlic wear line, called SC87, and was expanded in 2007 to include sticks.
TPS Hockey is believed to be the first company to sign a player who was still in junior, when in 2001 it locked up then future NHL star Rick Nash to a long-term deal when he was with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
While no doubt an exciting way to begin their pro careers, how successful the Hall and Seguin deals are for all parties will be determined over the long term.
Bauer and Easton can expect to gain significant brand exposure from having a top draft pick use their gear, experts say. But they might actually see better results if their endorsee is selected second, not first, because Boston, where the Bruins have the number two pick, has a slight edge over Edmonton in terms of marketing potential.
Both cities are considered ‘A' hockey markets, but Edmonton ranks slightly lower because of its smaller population base, according to Guy Darveau, vice-president of global sales and marketing, SP Apparel Inc., and former head of pro services for Reebok-CCM.
“The Boston market represents more value than Edmonton by far,” says Graham Watson, president of Watson Sports Associates, Canton, Mich., who was vice-president at TPS and the architect behind the Nash deal. “Edmonton does have a very respectable western Canada influence. The Boston market, as an original six as well as a larger television audience and a more extensive amateur hockey market on the eastern seaboard, will have greater impact long term.”
It also helps that the Bruins are currently a more competitive team, while the Oilers are in a rebuilding phase, Watson says.
Typically, equipment companies structure deals with top draft picks to comprise head-to-toe endorsements. This means the player commits to using everything from the helmet to sticks to skates and gloves, but arrangements that include only sticks and skates are also common. These are considered players' top performance tools, and are responsible for about 65% of revenue in the hockey equipment industry, according to Watson.
Usually, the first step will be for the equipment company to market a stick with the rookie player's name and blade pattern, Darveau says, followed by other elements as the relationship progresses.
Top level elite players, such as Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, have off-ice apparel built into their endorsements to capitalize on their wider appeal outside equipment sales.
“Few players have the charisma to have an impact across the country or in North America,” says Darveau. “You can trade Crosby or Ovechkin to a ‘D' hockey market and they will still be popular. Gretzky is another one – he created so much momentum for hockey in California.”
Watson estimates the Hall and Seguin deals are likely in the five-figures as an annual retainer, plus performance bonuses tied to personal on-ice achievements. If there is an apparel component, that would increase compensation, as would winning any of the NHL's major awards or making any national teams.
“All in all, I would assume their package could take them into the low six-figure category without too much difficulty,” says Watson.
In exchange, in addition to using the companies' equipment, the players would also be expected to make personal appearances at events and for TV, print, social media.
For a rookie NHLer, balancing such expectations with on-ice performance is not always easy.
“I've seen too many young hockey players sign a deal without knowing their commitments,” says Darveau. “An endorsement agreement for a player should be a bonus. Their priority is to perform on the ice, and if they have the opportunity to sign a deal with an equipment company that offers products they love to perform with, it's the perfect match.”
Wayne Karl is a freelance journalist in Toronto. He can be reached at email@example.com