Court Upholds Molson’s NHL Deal

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An Ontario appeals court Tuesday upheld Molson Coors Brewing Co.’s sponsorship deal with the National Hockey League, but the months-long spat with Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s Labatt Breweries, the league’s longtime Canadian sponsor, may not be over.

Labatt said in a statement that it will continue to fight the court’s decision and announced new sponsorship deals with three Canadian NHL teams. Budweiser beer, which is under Labatt’s umbrella in Canada, will sponsor the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets, effective in October. That brings the total number of NHL teams that Budweiser and Bud Light sponsor to 24 out of 30 teams in the league.

Molson Coors, whose sponsorship deals with the Canucks and Flames ended this month, now has deals with four of the seven Canadian teams and 12 U.S. teams, not all of which are exclusive. The Molson family owns the Montreal Canadiens.

The court overturned a lower court’s ruling in favor of Labatt, which claimed it already had a Canadian sponsorship agreement in place with the NHL before Molson Coors signed its seven-year North American pact in February. Labatt said then that it had already negotiated a “good faith” contract extension through 2014, but the appeals court found that the lower court misinterpreted that as a binding agreement.

The agreement between Molson Coors and the NHL was widely reported to be worth almost $400 million, the largest sponsorship deal in the league’s history. It makes Molson Canadian the official beer of the NHL, with additional consideration for Coors Light.

At an appeals court hearing last Thursday, attorneys disclosed that the Labatt deal was worth just C$36 million ($37.2 million) over three years, according to the Toronto Star.The NHL deal was considered a coup for Molson Coors, which last year lost its sponsorship of the National Football League to Anheuser-Busch, which also sponsors Major League Baseball.