SBJ/Feb. 7-13, 2011/Media

Virtual ads gain traction in NHL

Virtual sign technology is still relatively new in the NHL, but teams have seen demand for its unique ad placement as more potential sponsors see it on television.

COMCAST SPORTSNET
The Flyers are introducing PSAs into the virtual advertising on their broadcasts.
The “green screen” technology, where NHL teams can sell virtual ads for home games that aren’t televised nationally, is in its second year. The New York Rangers first tested it in 2008-09 through the MSG Network, said Art Ventura, the network’s senior vice president of media sales.

The Flyers, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Capitals and Rangers are using the technology now, selling space on the glass behind the two goals and, in New York, an additional spot between the team benches at Madison Square Garden.

The Blackhawks, in their second season using the technology, have virtual sign deals with Chevrolet, Harris Bank, MB Financial Bank, the Illinois Lottery, Robert Morris College and Toyota. Those deals are valued in the mid-six figures, and each sponsor owns one goal per period, said Dave Knickerbocker, the team’s senior executive director of marketing and business development. The brands take turns sharing exposure for overtime games.

“We sold out of our dasherboards for the second year in a row and there was demand for TV-visible signage,” Knickerbocker said. “The response has been strong [from advertisers] for the amount of time it’s on television. There is a lot of action behind the goals. We are sold out for virtual ads too and are compiling a list of people who have expressed interest.”

The Flyers are in their first year of using virtual ads and expect to generate “a little north of a half-million” in revenue by season’s end, said Joe Croce, senior vice president of sales for Comcast SportsNet. The team charges $3,500 a game in deals with Comcast Business Class digital communications, Geico, Immaculata University, McDonald’s, Powerball, Toyota, Verizon, Virtua Health System, Wawa convenience stores, Wells Fargo and Xfinity.

The Flyers pay $2,700 a game in production costs to Sportvision, the tech firm that the NHL uses to operate the virtual sign system. Philly carves its inventory into shorter increments of time where each brand gets a few minutes of exposure during each period. Some deals are tied to 10-game packages; others, such as McDonald’s and Toyota, run the entire season.

Comparing revenue vs. expenses, signing a virtual sign deal with just one company “puts you in the green a little,” Croce said. “For the playoffs, we can increase our rates because the TV ratings quadruple.”

For the second half of the NHL season, the Flyers are putting game statistics and public service announcements on the same glass spaces behind the nets where ads are placed, Croce said. Now that fans watching the games on television are accustomed to seeing the virtual ads, the noncommercial messages should catch their eye, he said.

The Blue Jackets, in their first season using virtual ads, picked up two new sponsors, Chrysler Jeep Dodge and Safelight Auto Glass, as a result of the technology, said Cameron Scholvin, the team’s senior vice president of corporate development.



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