“Beard-a-Thon,” that zany promotion that taps into a long-standing tradition of National Hockey League players not shaving during the playoffs as a show of solidarity, is entering its fourth season. I love this promotion. It’s a three-decades long tale that began with a seed of an idea germinating on an NHL hockey rink that was picked up by an enterprising sports marketing agency and, finally, finally, caught the eye of a sponsor.
It all began in 1979 when bruising New York Islander hockey players during the playoffs decided not to shave until they lost. They didn’t lose again for four years and over the years that playoff tradition has expanded to loyal fans and other teams and continues today.
Three years ago, Cenergy, which had avid hockey fans among its ranks and experience with NHL clients, tapped into that enthusiasm and conceived “Beard-a-Thon". The agency took the idea to the league. They liked it and Cenergy was given the go-ahead to reach out to the teams. Since then, customized promotions have been developed for 14 of the 32 NHL teams and two in Canada.
But what makes this promotion even better is its cause-marketing angle. It’s not just about showing off who can grow the wildest or longest beard for their team, it’s about raising funds for team charities, helping others while having some fun along the way. The program is structured like a walk-a-thon, seeking pledged support for beard growers, a player or a team with lump sum pledges of $25, $50 and $100 increments.
On average, over the last three years, about 15,000 fans grew beards to support their favorite team, raising a total $1.2 million for team charities like the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Garden of Dreams (New York City), and the Mario Lemieux Foundation (Pittsburgh).
The playoffs begin April 11 and could last for two months. All this week, Cenergy is launching team “Beard-a-Thon” websites as teams clinch playoff spots. When I checked back at the main site this morning, 242 people were already growing beards and had raised $5,315. Last year, the top beard grower, Ken Casey, raised $17,000. Casey also happens to be the lead singer of Celtic rock band, Dropkick Murphys, which just shows how a little starpower can raise awareness.
Now the promotion has entered a new phase. For the first time, it has attracted a sponsor, Just for Men Mustache & Beard, Combe Inc.’s largest brand. It's obviously a nice pairing, and Ralph Marburger, the regional marketing director for the Just for Men North American Hair Care Business concured when he told me, "We really understand how important facial hair is to guys."
The sponsorship, and its funding, takes the promotion to a whole new level driving national awareness through TV spots on the NHL network and during NBC’s Stanley Cup playoff coverage. There will also be a print ad in the Stanley Cup program and emails are being sent to the 250,000-name Just for Men database. With a sponsor it tow the hope is to raise $2 million this year alone.
So this little tale that began all those years ago continues to grow, just like all those beards out there.