Molson Coors, NHL to appeal court ruling blocking sponsorship deal

TORONTO – Molson Coors Canada and the National Hockey League plan to appeal an Ontario court ruling that would block what has been called the most lucrative sponsorship deal in the league’s history.

Meanwhile, the Denver-based brewer said it remained committed to advancing the $375-million deal with the NHL despite what it called a “surprise” ruling by the court late last week.

In his ruling Friday, Judge Frank Newbould of the Ontario Supreme Court upheld a claim by rival brewer Labatt that the NHL reneged on a deal in already had in place when it signed with Molson Coors.

In a news release Monday, Molson Coors president and CEO Dave Perkson said the company was disappointed with Judge Newbould’s ruling “given we entered into negotiations with the NHL in good faith.”

“While Friday’s ruling was an unfortunate surprise, we remain committed to doing all we can to keep this sponsorship agreement in place with the NHL.”

Perkson said the deal was an exciting opportunity for our network of employees, customers and hockey fans across Canada,” adding that the company’s long history of support for hockey at all levels “remains unwavering regardless of the outcome of this situation.”

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NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league disagreed with the court’s reasoning and decision and planned to “pursue an appeal of the ruling on an expedited basis.”

The NHL’s agreement with Molson Coors, described as a “monster deal” by NHL chief operating officer John Collins when it was unveiled in February, promoted a legal challenge by Labatt citing a deal with the NHL involving one of its brands.

“We are pleased that Budweiser’s sponsorship of the NHL will continue,” Charlie Angelakos, Labatt’s vice-president of corporate affairs, said in a release after Friday’s court ruling.

“Budweiser and hockey are a natural fit. We look forward to a very productive relationship with the league through the 2013-14 season and are actively looking for opportunities on a team and grass-roots level to reinforce that connection.”

Budweiser is owned by Anheuser-Busch, which is Labatt’s corporate parent. Anheuser-Busch is also the sponsor for 22 of the 24 NHL teams based in the United States.

The Canadian division of Molson Coors Brewing Co. is a global brewer with operations in Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Asia. It employees 3,000 people at seven breweries in Canada.