March 22, 2019
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.
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.
It is not just the official NHL arenas that sell board advertising, either. Many community and local ice rinks build revenue this way, too. These installations may be more long-term seasons, but it is all business for local board display printers. Put simply: there are a lot of advertising boards to print!
As a printer, the big question is “How does one get their piece of the rink board advertising action?” For league-wide sponsors and advertisers, the sales and printing are handled by the NHL. Generally, these are done centrally and then sent out to the local rinks and big arenas for game time. This print is often facilitated by brokers who work in conjunction with larger print shops.
For local sponsors and regional advertising, the team franchise or arena, depending on ownership structure, will facilitate the sales and production through their marketing departments. This varies city by city, but is usually printed locally for the organization for them to install in-house. Once a company’s print sales reps are engaged with the proper people at the team level, they can discuss local structure and processes for the print fulfilment. They are likely to uncover other print jobs within the organization and team structure.
For instance, it is not just the 31 NHL teams to consider. There several minor professional and junior leagues that are doing in-house advertising on their rink boards that open up more opportunity. The American Hockey League (AHL) and the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) are development leagues for the NHL and are affiliated with individual big-league teams. Together, these two leagues have another 58 teams throughout Canada and the United States.
The major junior league, overseen by the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), has an additional 52 teams in Canada and eight teams throughout four Northern U.S. states. There are also countless junior teams and amateur leagues who play in local arenas across North America who are looking for advertising revenue. Further, when considering the many tournaments and special events which require branding and rink board ads, one has a huge printing opportunity.
Once this business has been secured, it is important to ensure one knows how to manufacture the rink board advertisements. Before one starts to print anything it is vital to make sure the colour management is spot on, and the workflow is compatible with good quality media. Most rink board advertisements are simply big corporate logos; therefore, it will be necessary to hit a number of specific Pantone or branded colours to ensure the sponsors’ brands are properly communicated.
The rink board advertisements in NHL arenas are normally installed before each game and are only used once. In many circumstances sponsors will only purchase enough ad time for less than a game. In these cases, the decals are removed and replaced with a different sponsor between periods.
When selecting a self-adhesive vinyl to print it is important to ensure the correct media is used for its intended surface, longevity, and printing technology. The adhesive must stick well and apply easily at the lower temperatures one would expect near ice level, but be compatible with quick, clean removal—even during a game—leaving no sticky residue behind or damaging the boards. For more long-term advertising contracts, perhaps at a community ice rink, it is essential to use a media that can withstand the cold for extended periods, survive knocks and abrasions, and can be removed cleanly at the end of its life. Further, the right media should be opaque in order to cover up blemishes and ensure there is no bleed-through if decals are installed one over another, or if the boards are marked, which is highly likely in an ice hockey environment.
To facilitate this need for easy application and removal—in addition to its required longevity—one will need a vinyl that has a high-quality removable adhesive. The final printed decal must be at least 6 to 8 mm (0.2 to 0.3 in.) thick. This heavier product is less prone to stretching, making for easier application, and ensures simple removal, allowing the print to be peeled off as a single piece and not shred or tear as it is pulled away from the surface.
There are a couple of ways to ensure the final print reaches the required thickness; however, one will need to see what the individual team or league prefers. A 3- to 4-mm thick adhesive vinyl can be printed to, and then laminated with, a similar thickness matte film to provide a final print up to 8 mm in thickness. The laminate is required as a stiffener and to add thickness to the final product. Because of the typically short lifespan of the print the laminate is not needed to protect it.
In recent years testing has been performed at a local community arenas using heavier print vinyl that does not need lamination. Removable vinyl with a thickness of between 6 and 8 mm has grown in popularity.
It can provide savings on material and labour by removing the time and additional work it takes to laminate the finished print. This thicker vinyl creates an easier solution not only for the print provider but also for the application team.
To create efficiencies in production, it is advisable to use a vinyl that is greater than or equal to 1.5 m (5.1 ft) in width. This allows the media to be printed two-up—ads are typically 711 to 762 mm (28 to 30 in.) high—and minimizes waste while allowing for the fastest print times.
It is also crucial to buy media that is compatible with the company’s printing technology to get the best results. Many polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products can be printed exceptionally well with all the standard printing systems—ultraviolet (UV), latex, solvent, and eco-solvent—but first check with the manufacturer and then perform tests.
There is several adhesive vinyl manufacturers that make media designed specifically for rink board advertising; however, some materials may be able to perform double-duty for multiple applications. For instance, some vehicle graphics media can be used for rink board ads as it has the ability to withstand outdoor temperatures, dust and abrasions, and its compatibility with smooth surfaces all add up to a multi-purpose product, while other materials may be suitable for floor, window, or wall displays alongside the rink boards.
That said, one should always check with the manufacturer to ensure proper trials have been carried out. For specific rink board media, there will have been extensive testing and proven history at ice level to guarantee these decals perform properly and, therefore, allowing print providers to make sure their finished product meets the demands of the environment.
When reaching out to a local distributor or manufacturer, one should make sure they truly understand the unique requirements of the application as all vinyl media is not created equal.
Images of the Bostwick Community Centre arena board project provided by Jackson Signs of Brantford, Ont.
Peter Bourgeois is the western Canada sales manager for Drytac. He has spent more than 20 years in the wide-format industry in sales and sales management. Bourgeois has worked for both distributors and manufacturers and has in-depth knowledge of print media and equipment. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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