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Volume 22 No. 43
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NHL teams adopt changes to corner ice ads

FedEx is one of three returning corner-ice sponsors for the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena this year.
Photo: getty images
FedEx is one of three returning corner-ice sponsors for the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena this year.
Photo: getty images
FedEx is one of three returning corner-ice sponsors for the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena this year.
Photo: getty images

The new NHL regular season marks the second in which teams can sell ads in the corner of the ice, and once again all 31 teams have sold their full allotment. While several teams landed new clients — the Minnesota Wild (Ticketmaster), St. Louis Blues (Jagermeister), Nashville Predators (Hardee’s)  and Washington Capitals (Bon & Viv), among others — in addition to the return of popular existing categories of banking, insurance and automotive, perhaps the most notable change is in the look of many of those ads. Clubs have analyzed key insights and modified their strategy to drive greater returns for blue-chip brands. Among the takeaways from the inaugural season that are being applied this year, executives said, are the development of eye-catching creative, bolder colors and fonts and shorter text. 

Doug Smoyer, a consultant at Smoyer Commercial Strategies and an adjunct professor at New York University, referred to the corner placements as “100 mile-an-hour impressions,” a term coined by a chief marketer with an NHL team. The marketer’s message to Smoyer was simple: These logos need to be instantly recognizable when a camera pans over that area of the ice. Certain camera angles along with the integrity of the ice surface late in periods and at the end of a game make the logo that much more important, which was a common belief shared by Smoyer and teams interviewed.  

The Pittsburgh Penguins took that mentality into the marketplace to sell their fourth and final corner ice spot for 2019-20. They eventually sold the placement to Pittsburgh-based technology company and existing team partner II-VI Incorporated, which more than doubled its investment with the team to secure the inventory, according to Terry Kalna, the Penguins senior vice president of sales and broadcasting. The new spot replaces one from real estate company Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, a name that didn’t lend itself to easy visibility.  

Last season, the Penguins garnered two times more revenue than the league average, Kalna said. Returning Penguins corner ice partners for this season include FedEx, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Vector Security.

“When the clubs are able to sell signage inventory like this to drive exposure in the home market, there’s a ton of value,” Kalna said, adding that the new corner ice inventory was the best commercial decision the league has made in recent years. “Partners stepped up and paid for that.”

He explained that for year two, Vector Security in particular decided to deviate from its corporate brand identity in order to maximize its on-ice positioning and drive greater media value. To do so, the company has adopted bolder coloring and shifted where the icon in the logo appears. 

“The more distinct and simpler the logo and the creative, the better,” said Jarrod Dillon, Tampa Bay Lightning chief marketing and revenue officer. 

The Lightning return Heritage Insurance and Tampa General Hospital, both of which have two spots apiece on the ice, as part of fully integrated partnerships. Selling the inventory in pairs mirrors the team’s “less is more” philosophy and allows brands to more easily “cut through the clutter” in terms of brand awareness, television visibility and impressions, according to Dillon. He added that compared to the team’s center-ice logos and best TV-visible dasherboards, the corner ice ads are in the same realm when measuring media value and impressions.

According to the NHL’s Allison Eddy, director of business development, clubs, the new inventory in year one drove more value per brand across linear and digital platforms than originally projected by the league in its testing phase. 

“A majority of teams have used the new signage to close and renew significant partnerships over the last 12 months,” she said.