Trouble brewing for NHL as lockout drags on

Fri Nov 9, 2012 3:49pm EST
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadians may be depressed about the ongoing National Hockey League (NHL) lockout that has darkened arenas across the hockey mad nation but they are not crying in their beer about it, at least not Molson Coors.

As the labor war between billionaire owners and millionaire players drags on trouble appears to be brewing for the NHL with fans, sponsors, television networks and those who earn a living on the fringes of the sport angered over the prospects of losing a second season in eight years.

An Angus Reid poll released on Friday found that more Canadians blame owners for the lockout now in its 55th day and 31 percent of hockey fans polled have switched to watching the National Football League (NFL).

The tedious negotiation dance has become all too familiar for weary North American sports fans, who have been dragged a through Conga line of labor disputes by the NFL, NFL officials and the National Basketball Association in the past 15 months. Now they must watch NHL owners and players wrestle over a $3.3 billion pie.

Some of that frustration surfaced like the froth on a foamy beer on Wednesday, when Molson Coors chief executive Peter Swinburn, who signed a reported seven-year $375 million sponsorship deal with the NHL, suggested the brewing giant could seek compensation for a dramatic slump in sales in Canada.

In the first month of the fourth quarter, Molson Coors sales to retailers fell 5.1 percent in Canada, hurt by industry weakness and the NHL lockout.

"NHL is a major property for us," said Molson vice-president Dave Dunnewald. "Hockey generates a lot of beer occasions in Canada, whether it's in bars, in home, or in the venues.

"And it's a really important part of how we activate behind our power brands, Coors Light and Canadian.   Continued...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in New York September 13, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri