Off the Crossbar: 2018-19 Season Brought to You By Google Ads

While many teams are tweaking their rosters, the NHL is making changes to the ice itself. More specifically, the advertising under it. In advance of the 2018-19 season, teams are adding corporate logos and brand messages to several new areas that have always been blank.

“There’s a global media opportunity with tremendous brand awareness,” said NHL Chief Revenue Officer Keith Wachtel. “We see this as some of the most valuable real estate in all of sports.”

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Any Space is Fair Game

The NHL first began allowing advertising on the boards in 1978. Then, in the early 1990s, teams were permitted to paint four sponsor logos in the neutral zones. This year, if you want to see clean ice you have a better chance at looking out your window in Winnipeg in the middle of February.

Initially, the new areas to take on advertising are in the corners below the goal lines and along the end boards at both ends of the rink. The league experimented with these ads during its exhibition games in China and at the All-Star Game last January. But, that’s just phase one.

League officials estimate that each of the four areas on the ice will have about “20 to 25 minutes of exposure during every game.” Not bad considering a game lasts a maximum of 60 minutes plus a possible five minute sudden-death overtime session.

There’s a rollout plan in place to have sponsorships of the center or red line, both blue lines, and each faceoff dot. Once the ice is completely covered and it looks as ridiculous as the Boise State Football Field, a different color puck may be necessary.

Phase two includes the goalposts and player’s sweaters and helmets. In the third and final phase, players will have branded henna tattoos to their cheeks, foreheads and in some cases, noses. One of the NHL’s marketing interns even tossed out the idea of tattooing Brad Marchand’s tongue. “I could see an opportunity for maybe Listerine or Clorox,” said Vincent Tromblay, an eager college student with aspirations of meeting the “Rat-faced Killah.”

Brad Marchand Bruins
Marchand could be lining his pockets with new sponsorship money. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

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Sponsors Already Lining Up

Last season, the National Basketball Association allowed ads to be sold on their players’ jerseys. The Canadian Football League has been allowing it for several years.

In an era when money-grabbing sponsorships have existed for decades among the four major sports, the NHL is aggressively playing catch up. Major League Baseball has Verizon Wireless’s “Call to the Bullpen” and the National Football League has the Old Spice “Red Zone.” It’s only a matter of time before there’s the “Molson Blue Line” and “Geico’s 15th Save of the Game,” because it only takes 15 minutes to save 15 percent or more on car insurance.

Nearly every square inch and every second of this year’s NHL will be marketable. Every power play will be brought to you by the National Grid. Every penalty kill will be sponsored by Celino & Barnes. Every hit will be underwritten by the blackjack division of MGM Casinos. Every blocked shot will be sponsored by Trojan condoms. Every goal light will be a brought to you by Sylvania’s new energy-saving LED bulb. Tampax will sponsor most faceoff dots.

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Mo Ads, Mo Money, Mo Problems

One media broker for the NHL, who asked to remain anonymous, threw shade at Bettman and his brass for becoming cash-grabbing whores. “These new placements are ridiculous. Goal posts? Really?”

Play-by-play broadcasters will be required to incorporate the sponsors into their game calling duties. For example, “He rang one off the goal post” will now be “he rang one off the Firestone Firehawk All Season Performance Radial Goal Post.”

The only reason the NHLPA went along with the cockamamie initiative is that Bettman ok’d their individual sponsorships. Some initial deals include Alex Ovechkin’s BB&T Slapshot, Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Paints Snapshot, Frederik Andersen’s Loblaw’s Cheese Wall Saves and Joe Thornton’s Ice-Activated Beard Gel by Mennen. Other deals reportedly close to happening are Brent Burns’ Colgate Optic White Stripes and P.K. Subban Zoot Suits.

Brent Burns Sharks
Burns is a natural for any dental-related product endorsement. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Many European hockey leagues cover their surfaces with advertising. It’s flat-out ugly. League officials and Wachtel set out to create more consumer-friendly options. “We looked at what would be tastefully done while also driving additional partnerships and revenue,” Wachtel said. “Then ultimately, decided to do the exact polar opposite.”

All of these new sponsorship and advertising opportunities will line each franchise owner’s pockets with stacks of cash–they could bring in tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars of incremental sponsorship revenue.

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Sponsorships of Sponsors

The green light for sponsorships is opening doors and profit centers. It will completely change the landscape of arenas, the ice, uniforms and broadcasting.

Before long, every faceoff will sound something like: “Sidney Crosby, representing Gerber Baby Food, is lining up against Bauer Vapor 1X Skates’ Jack Eichel at the Tampax face-off dot to the right of Carter Hutton’s AARP Goal Crease, between the Home Depot goal post and the Canadian Tire goal post, which hold up the Tim Horton’s Crossbar. Wes McCauley, officiating for Safety Solutions’ for-profit Private Prisons Division, will be dropping the Dunlop Tire Vulcanized Rubber puck as soon as we return from this commercial message from Swiss Chalet; Always So Good For So Little, since 1954. All of which is brought to you by Avondale Food Stores; Convenience with low prices and powered by your local LCBO.”


*Relax. It’s satire. Kind of.

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