Most of us have come to expect advertisements on rink boards, on the ice, and even on hockey jerseys. The white rink boards of the past were a blank slate for connection between brands and the passion and energy for the game. In the future, we’ll no doubt see advertising used in more creative ways both during NHL games and in local community rinks.

But how did it start? When did hockey rink advertising become a sought-after branding opportunity for brands all over North America? Here’s a quick history of how advertising merged with the sport of hockey.

Humble Beginnings

Before the 1980s, the boards of a hockey rink were completely white—except for the black puck marks made by hockey players during ice time. In the 1978-79 season, NHL teams were given permission to sell ad space on the rink boards, with the first pair of boards selling for only $3,000! By the end of the decade, every NHL team had featured advertising on their boards.

In the 1990s, ads began popping up on the ice. Ads placed next to center ice and in the neutral zone were coveted because there was no way spectators could miss them during TV broadcasts and while sitting in the arena—it was a prime opportunity. Compared to European and lower-level professional leagues, most rinks are quite conservative in the ad coverage on the ice surface.

As advertising in NHL arenas expanded, community rinks and local arenas realized the potential revenue stream and sponsorship opportunities for using the vast white space in arenas everywhere. Soon, rink board, ice, and in-arena ads started appearing in arenas everywhere. Advertising dollars often assist with the costs of community arenas, contributing to and supporting the structures that house so many local activities and events.

We Were There!

Thom Partners actually pioneered community hockey arena advertising as a national campaign strategy. In 2006, we worked with Nike to assist them in a custom in-arena advertising strategy for community rinks across Canada.

Through this campaign, we designed a brand-new way to connect one campaign through rinks all over the country to allow us to have a seamless consistency in our messaging and efficiency in rolling out our client’s hockey rink advertising strategy. This made it possible for us to turn one customized project into a streamlined national campaign. Clients were able to deal with one service to get everything done nationwide—us!

The world of hockey rink advertising is always evolving. Watch out for an increasing number of brands supporting jerseys, digitally placed ads, virtual ads, and other new creative branding opportunities.