3ICE bringing NHL’s OT format to new league
Starting in June 2021, hockey fans and sports enthusiasts who love the NHL’s wide open 3-on-3 overtime play will now have a pro hockey league to follow that’s built solely around that format.
Led by founder and CEO E.J. Johnston, the son of former NHL player, coach and general manager Eddie Johnston, 3ICE is a North American league that will begin after next year’s Stanley Cup playoffs conclude. Eight teams will descend upon a different U.S. or Canadian city for eight consecutive Saturdays in a bracket-style format that will include seven games per day. The winners of each game advance, picking up one point for a first-round win, two points for a second-round victory and three points for a championship triumph.
The points totals determine seeding in future weekends. The ninth weekend of the season will be the championship weekend.
Each game will have two eight-minute periods with a running clock that will only stop for injuries or penalties, the latter of which will result in a penalty shot rather than a team playing a man down.
“Why does it work?” said Johnston of the 3-on-3 game. “Creativity, speed, tic-tac-toe passing. It’s about improvisation and your hockey IQ.”
Johnston’s own playing career ended when he was a teenager, not counting the New York-based roller hockey league he still plays in. 3ICE will combine both his personal interest in the sport with his professional experiences in advertising, television production and media. Johnston has been running his own production company, EJD Productions, and had prior stints at Fox Sports, IMG and Getty Images.
Besides watching the 3-on-3 format when it went into effect with the NHL’s 2015-16 season, Johnston also got an up-close look at it while attending summer rookie camps for the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils over the past few years. Though he was initially skeptical, after getting enough exposure he became hooked.
“The oohs and aahs, you get that in a hockey game, but it was constant,” he said of the in-arena atmosphere. “You were on the edge of your seat. … It was electric.”
Johnston founded 3ICE in 2017. He spent his own time and money refining the concept, developing a business plan and speaking with sharp hockey minds including Penguins GM Jim Rutherford and Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin, among others. Last year, he added a C-suite of executives, including naming hockey hall of famer Craig Patrick as commissioner and former NFL executive Michael Williams as chief marketing officer. John Schermerhorn and Steve Baker will serve as chief revenue officers.
Though Johnston declined comment on funding specifics, he did say that 3ICE has been privately funded to date without any corporate involvement and that there’s “ample runway” for the new venture.
Each team will carry six skaters and one goalie, while a group of 10 to 20 reserve players will travel with the regulars from city to city. All told, Johnston said, the league will ask players for an estimated 30- to 35-day commitment for the first season. The plan is to get former NHL and professional hockey players to take part.
Salaries will be the same for all coaches and all players. Though the figures weren’t specified, Johnston said players would be able to make this their full-time job. Cash bonuses will be awarded to both groups throughout the season for winning individual tour stops, earning year-end awards and making the playoffs, among other benchmarks. The responses from prospective coaches have been overwhelming, Johnston said, saying that the eight who will be announced later this spring will all either be members of the Hall of Fame or U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
CBS is the league’s U.S. media partner, as all regular-season games will air on CBS Sports Network and the championship weekend in August will be televised on CBS. Both TSN and RDS are Canadian media partners. Each Saturday broadcast will be about three hours, including pregame and postgame, along with the 112 minutes of hockey action spread across all seven games. Getty Images is 3ICE’s still imagery provider, and ASM Global will serve as its venue and event management partner.
According to Johnston, 3ICE is still considering 15 to 20 different cities for its first season, which will start with a player evaluation camp and a draft in either January or February 2021.
Johnston and Williams shared similar sentiments about their excitement for how 3ICE could experiment with the on-ice product, game presentation, sponsor integrations and fan engagement.
“The mantra of our league is fun, innovative and snackable,” Johnston said.
For example, what if fans could tap into a voting mechanism within their smartphone, whether at the arena or at home, and pick the second-round matchups? If there’s a questionable goal that the two referees and instant replay cannot confirm, maybe the league displays the play on the in-arena video board for fans to vote on whether they think it’s a goal. Are there fan boosts for teams, similar to the power boosts in Formula E?
While the league would not reveal any league partners, the sponsorship model allows for a company’s name, logo and marks to be featured across a team’s jersey. As part of the integration, 3ICE will bake content into its relationship with sponsors as it flexes its production muscles.
“We’re always going to be wearing that Hollywood hat,” Johnston said.
Added Williams: “It’s a complete white canvas as far as what we’re able to do. … The creativity is the only thing that will be limiting us.”