The icing on the cake
By Peter Bourgeois
Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip sang: “If there’s a goal that everyone remembers/It was back in ol’ 72/We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger.” Most Canadians of a certain age know this is a reference to the 1972 Summit Series of hockey between Canada and the Soviet Union, and the trigger, of course, was Paul Henderson’s goal that won the series for Canada.
What one may not know about this series is it was the first time paid rink board advertising was used in televised hockey games. For the final four games of this tournament, which took place in the Soviet Union, Gillette Corp., paid the Moscow Arena $10,000 for a 5-m (16.4-ft) ad on the boards at centre ice. Within seven years, the National Hockey League (NHL) would allow rink board advertising to be sold by the individual teams. In 1979, the Minnesota North Stars were the first team to sell rink board ads for $3000 a pair. By the end of the 1980s all (then) 21 teams were building revenue by selling rink board advertising space to their corporate sponsors.
A valuable opportunity
Since then the NHL has grown to 31 teams (32 by 2021), each of which is filling their boards with corporate logos and ads which speak to those in the stands, as well as the television audience. It may not seem like much, but it adds up to a lot of wide-format printing. A standard rink board ad is 2.2 m2 (24 sf) and the standard NHL rink has almost 174 m (570 ft) of boards. Most arenas have between 45 and 60 individual rink board ads. This means there can be more than 130 m2 (1400 sf) of print at ice level at a time, in any NHL game.
With each team playing 41 home games, this means almost 185,806 m2 (2,000,000 sf) of print is on NHL arenas during the season. This does not even account for the fact that many of the ads are actually replaced between periods during games (typically for smaller advertisers who cannot afford an entire game) or if a panel becomes marked. Further, this total does not even include playoff and pre-season games, or other semi-pro, junior, or amateur leagues.