PALM BEACH, Fla. — Amid heavy criticism from fans on social media about the introduction of animated, digitally-placed dasher board advertisements this season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league’s own market research indicated it is a “non-issue.”
Bettman said the NHL’s Chief Revenue Officer Keith Wachtel provided a report to the Board of Governors here at their annual December meeting on Tuesday which touched on the digitally enhanced advertisements.
“They’re working great and the polling we do with our fans gives us feedback that it’s a non-issue,” Bettman said. “In fact, many think it looks better than having the numerous logos and ads on dasher boards. I think it’s working extraordinarily well, particularly for the complexity that’s involved in doing it.”
There is no denying it is a complex technological undertaking. The NHL first introduced the concept of the digital dasher boards during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey on a trial basis, but it took until this season to roll out the feature on both national and regional telecasts. They supersede the traditional ads placed on boards in-arena, and some have motion involved, such as a car moving around the boards while the play is ongoing.
It naturally takes your eye off the puck, which many casual fans argue is hard enough to track as is, but perhaps that is the point of the advertisement. It is meant to be consumed.
A technologically savvy hockey fan named Dan Bagley posted a 19-tweet thread last week on social media examining all of the difficulties. Players routinely disappear during sequences along the boards, falling into the abyss of the digital wrapper before reappearing. The puck can also be lost. While it appears some of the kinks have been worked out over the first three months of the season, it is far from perfect, and may never be given the nature of the game.
Will the NHL eventually pull the plug? Probably not. Bettman said the league polled Canadian and U.S.-based fans that identify both as “casual” and “avid” fans and were pleased with the results.
“It’s not an issue,” Bettman said. “Listen, if what you’re doing is just watching the dasher boards – which I guess if you’re reporting on it, then you may do – then it may be a distraction. If you’re watching the game, it’s not a distraction.”
Moreover, the league is pleased with the additional revenue the digital boards have provided – which is why they won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
“It’s positive,” Bettman said. “It’s actually exceeding our expectations.”
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