Local Labatt drinkers feeling blue because Molson will become the official sponsor of the NHL have no reason to shed a tear in their beer. Labatt and the Buffalo Sabres will remain a team.
The NHL announced Tuesday that Molson Canadian had obtained exclusive league rights in the beer sponsorship category, including the rights to the "Official Beer of the NHL" designation, starting next season. Labatt USA, which is headquartered in Buffalo and pours beverages throughout HSBC Arena, made it clear Wednesday that it will remain the official sponsor of the Sabres.
"Buffalo's a hockey town, and Labatt is Buffalo's hockey beer. We are the official sponsor of the Buffalo Sabres and will be for years to come," said Peter Bodenham, vice president of marketing for Labatt. "At the arena and throughout Western New York, we will promote our sponsorship and support our local team."
The longtime drinking contest between the two Canadian beer giants threatened to spill into a courtroom Tuesday after the league made its announcement. The NHL's seven-year deal with Molson Coors in Canada and MillerCoors in the United States is worth a reported $375 million, but Labatt insists it was in line to continue as the NHL's beverage of choice.
"Labatt has been the official beer sponsor of the NHL in Canada for more than a decade, and we began sponsorship renewal negotiations with the league several months ago to secure sponsorship rights," said Charlie Angelakos, vice president of corporate affairs for Labatt Breweries. "These negotiations with the NHL proceeded positively and in good faith to the point where the parties had agreed upon the terms of renewal of a sponsorship agreement until 2014. Nothing has happened to change that situation."
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly disagreed.
"Labatt has been and continues to be a terrific partner, but we strongly disagree with their assertion that an agreement was in place for the 2011-12 NHL season," Daly said in a statement. "We have no further comment at this time."
Either way, teams can strike individual deals with beer makers. Labatt dominates the taps and signage in HSBC Arena, including a huge, neon "Blue Zone" sign that hangs in the atrium and can be seen by fans as they walk down Washington Street toward the building.
"Fans can stop by the Blue Zone or anywhere else in the arena to grab a Labatt Blue while watching the game," Bodenham said. "Buffalo hockey fans also can expect to see a continued link between the Buffalo Sabres and Labatt."