NHL Playing Both Sides Against the Middle in the Doughnut Wars

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 2: A view of the signage prior to the 2014 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic at BC Place on March 2, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

There is a fierce competition for a significant foothold in the multi-billion dollar doughnut industry, and it looks like no entity is profiting off that battle more than the National Hockey League.

NHL Playing Both Sides Against the Middle in the Doughnut Wars

Several years ago, the NHL agreed to a steadily-growing partnership with Canadian-based Tim Horton’s. The quick-service restaurant became the title sponsor for the 2011 Tim Horton’s Heritage Classic to initiate its multi-year contract.

As part of the partnership, Tim Horton’s became the official breakfast, coffee, doughnut and quick-service restaurant of the NHL in Canada. A year later, the sponsorship grew to include the titling of the NHL All-Star Game.

Tim Horton’s also secured individual franchise sponsorships with the Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.

Before the 2015-16 season, Tim Horton’s partnered with Upper Deck, who holds the license to produce hockey cards, to produce its own themed set of NHL cards available for purchase in its restaurants.

Meanwhile, Tim Horton’s was also trying to nab more of a market share in the United States. In 2012, Dunkin’ Donuts controlled 57.5 percent of the $11.6-billion American doughnut industry. Tim Horton’s invasion into the United States began with a small cluster of locations in major metropolitan areas, like New York City‘s Penn Station. Those designs have since become much more ambitious, expanding to take on Dunkin’ Donuts directly. An example is Tim Horton’s current expansion into the Daytona, Florida, market.

Dunkin’ Donuts hasn’t been completely out of the hockey sponsorship game while Tim Horton’s was expanding its partnership with the NHL, however. Coming into this season, Dunkin’ had existing partnerships with many individual franchises, including the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals.

Whether it was because of the increasing pressure that Tim Horton’s is applying, or because Dunkin’ was already sponsoring nearly half of the league already, the partnership between Dunkin’ and the NHL recently expanded to a nation-wide deal. Dunkin’ now owns the same official product titles in the U.S. as Tim Horton’s owns in Canada. This is the first nationwide professional sports league sponsorship for Dunkin’, and its brand is now going to be visible to many of the same fans that Tim Horton’s is paying the NHL to reach.

While the value of the Dunkin’ partnership has not been disclosed, the NHL is now enjoying revenue streams from both Dunkin’ Donuts and Tim Horton’s on a national sponsor level. Both companies are trying to use hockey to sell their products, and the NHL is reaping the benefits.

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