‘Tis the season for overindulgence. And Canadians don’t shy away from soaking in as much junior hockey as possible during the holidays. As always, this year’s World Junior Championship kicked off  Boxing Day. And the country’s passionate support for the tournament has become an advertiser’s dream.

“If you were a marketing person making a choice of where to advertise, this would be very high on your Christmas list,” Peter Widdis, a professor of sports marketing at George Brown College, told BNN in a phone interview. “It’s the most anticipated sports property at this time of the year,” added Widdis, who suggests the World Juniors are starting to attract the kind of marketer interest typically associated with events like the Super Bowl.

Winning helps. Canada has taken home more gold medals than any other country. Fans like to bet on winners, as do brands. And given the recent dry spell for Canadian teams in the NHL playoffs, the World Juniors are generally viewed as trailing only the Olympics when it comes to hockey fan enthusiasm. While the World Cup of Hockey, which features professional players, has made inroads, the amateur sport aspect of the World Juniors generates a level of excitement perhaps comparably seen in the U.S. during the NCAA’s “March Madness” College Basketball tournament.

More than 3 million viewers tuned in to TSN and RDS for last year’s Boxing Day opener, with the World Juniors overall attracting 15.3 million unique viewers to TSN and RDS. Ratings for Team Canada’s games rose 16 per cent, compared to the previous year’s tournament. By comparison, the most recent Super Bowl attracted an audience of 8.3 million viewers on CTV and RDS. CTV, RDS and TSN are owned by Bell Media, as is BNN. 

“There are so many brands involved now – Nike, Esso, Telus, Samsung, SportChek - the list goes on,” said Anthony Zanfini, founder of Toronto-based digital marketing firm Ambit, in a phone interview with BNN. Zanfini previously worked on marketing campaigns for six World Junior Championships on behalf of clients like Nike. “The world juniors are a particularly great marketing extension for brands that are already focused on Canada or hockey as a platform,” he added.

Indeed, the tournament has come a long way since 1978, when a young Wayne Gretzky led all scorers. “Back then, they couldn’t even get into major league arenas,” noted George Brown College’s Peter Widdis.

Scheduling key games on holiday-friendly days, including Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, has helped deliver must-see TV ratings that advertisers crave.

Beyond television, marketing partners are taking advantage of the social media hype surrounding the tournament. 

“It’s no secret that multi-screen viewing has gone up, especially for consumers who have more than one device going. It has given brands a chance to release exclusive content that brings a new approach to the game coverage,” said Ambit’s Anthony Zanfini.

This year, TSN and Hockey Canada have teamed up with Twitter Canada to build advertising into game highlights being distributed on Twitter. TSN is working with Air Canada and Canadian Tire, through its @TSN account, while Hockey Canada partnered with Samsung for its @HockeyCanada account.

“The World Juniors are one of the centerpieces for TSN over the holidays and it was clear it would be a good fit for our Amplify program,” Rory Capern, general manager of Twitter Canada, told BNN in a phone interview. “The marketing partners that came to this are already really involved in the tournament.”

Meanwhile, having the tournament in Canada this year (with games split between Toronto and Montreal), creates additional marketing opportunities. On top of avoiding dramatic time zone differences for game schedules, marketers can connect with fans through related community events. “The amount of activation on the ground grows exponentially more for local brands,” said sports marketing expert Peter Widdis.