Ads are virtual, but for some NHL fans the annoyance is real


Hockey fans have taken notice of the high-tech virtual ads displayed league-wide on arena signs during NHL broadcasts this season.

The National Hockey League told CBC News it was « pleased with the integration » of the new digitally enhanced scoreboards (DEDs), despite « a few technical issues » along the way.

But the league may not be getting the kind of attention it’s looking for from DEDs — if some of the headlines on social media are any indication.

In short, not everyone is impressed by what they saw on their screens.

« Once you notice it, it’s really hard not to notice it, » said Darcy Warrington, a hockey watcher from Saskatoon who found the appearance of the new ads shocking.

The ads are dynamic and can change quickly during the broadcast – much to the chagrin of at-home viewers like Warrington, who find the visual transitions distracting when the game is in progress.

« Maybe I’ll get used to it, but so far it’s hard to watch, » he said.

Virtual ads generate more revenue

Michael Naraine, an associate professor of sports management at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., said he believes these types of ads are here to stay.

« Coming out of COVID, sports organizations are looking for new revenue streams to diversify, and so dynamic ads aren’t going anywhere anytime soon (much like helmet decals and jersey patches), » Naraine said per E-mail.

Being able to run more ads in the same space creates the opportunity to generate more revenue, he said, adding that the impetus to use them will grow stronger as technology improves and bugs will be resolved.

The NHL is certainly eager to see the ads rolled out, having worked for years with Supponor, a London-based virtual advertising company, to deliver the final product. Ads are not visible to fans watching the match in an arena.

« Supponor and the NHL have been discussing the potential use of digitally enhanced scoreboards for almost a decade, » David Patton, the British company’s senior vice president of business development, told CBC News in an email.

Patton said improvements were made to league arenas and technology was gradually tested, which ultimately led to this season’s rollout. There are a total of 32 NHL arenas in Canada and the United States.

ESPN reports that « tens of millions » of dollars have been invested along the way to make these virtual ads a reality.

« Distracting and Disturbing »

For Ontario hockey fan David Sutton, the ads « distract and disrupt the experience of watching and feeling involved in the game. »

They also cover the boards and their markings, which Sutton considers key points of interest for people watching hockey games.

Hockey fan David Sutton says the boards surrounding the hockey rink and the markings on them – like those seen at a Golden Knights-Coyotes preseason game earlier this month in Las Vegas – are key points of interest for people watching hockey at home. (Sam Morris/Associated Press)

« Seeing the marks on the board, whether they are extensions of marks on the ice or even marks where the puck hit, is part of the feeling of involvement and integration in the game, » he said. he said in an email.

Still, these wraparound arena signs are perfectly suited to display ads to those same viewers, said Hannah Holmes, assistant professor of economics at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“The NHL is the perfect league to experiment with/adopt this technology because of its infrastructure, namely the boards around the ice,” Holmes wrote in an email.

More soon?

Holmes said if the ads were successful, they would likely stick around and drive the use of other new technologies in the future.

« Let’s hope games viewership doesn’t shrink due to ad distraction; losing viewers reduces the impact of any advertising and decreases revenue across the board (no pun intended), » he said. she declared.

A young New York Rangers fan watches a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning through the glass in New York on Tuesday. (Julia Nikhinson/Associated Press)

Sutton said he isn’t optimistic the NHL will change course, even if fans argue against it.

« I think at some point young viewers won’t know anything but the use of digital boards, and at some point it won’t matter, » he said.

« Sad, because they’re presented with an artificial product and they don’t share the experience. »

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