Sportvision Takes Virtual Signage to Hockey Broadcasts

This season, four NHL teams will feature virtual signage powered by Sportvision in their TV broadcasts. Through their respective Comcast SportsNet regional sports networks, the Chicago Blackhawks (CSN Chicago), Philadelphia Flyers (CSN Philadelphia), and Washington Capitals (CSN Mid-Atlantic) will feature the virtual advertising, as will the Ottawa Senators, through Rogers SportsNet East. For Sportvision, bringing the digital-signage concept from the baseball field to the hockey rink presented some challenges, but the company has been able to borrow heavily from its experience on the diamond.

“It’s a very similar technology to what we do for baseball,” says Sportvision SVP/GM Jeff Jonas. “Instead of changing the ads every half inning like we do in baseball, in hockey, they change every period. It enables the networks to have an incremental virtual sponsor, to create space that wouldn’t otherwise be there, and the location behind the goal gives them great exposure. That’s a sight line that is often used.”

Green Board to Glass Wall
Adding virtual advertising to live sports broadcasts is nothing new for Sportvision, although keying against glass is a bit more difficult than keying against green boards in a baseball stadium.

“The nice green board is easy to key on, while glass has a lot of artifacts to it,” Jonas explains. “Making sure that the key is appropriate, as well as the lighting, is the toughest part. Luckily, we’ve done a lot of keying on various surfaces in the past. For two Winter Olympics, we’ve had to key on the ice for speed-skating competitions, so we’ve learned a lot from those experiences. We’ve been able to take bits and pieces from what we’ve learned across various sports and adapt it to this system for hockey.”

When it comes to occlusion, however, keying for hockey is a bit easier than baseball.

“From the views that we’re taking in hockey, there is not usually occlusion,” Jonas says. “In baseball, the batter will often walk in front of the board, or an outfielder or the umpire. In hockey, that doesn’t happen very often.”

To insert the ads into the broadcast, Sportvision needs to receive the graphics a few days ahead of time, although, in an emergency, images can be changed out up to game time. A single operator on-site must go through and register each camera within the Sportvision system, as is done with the 1st-and-10 line for football. Once that process is complete, the user interface for hockey is significantly less complicated than that for baseball.

“It’s not 18 different changes; it’s usually only three,” Jonas points out. “Once they go through and test the cameras with the system, everything is registered, and we’re ready for air.”

Off the Boards
To begin the season, Sportvision’s four hockey partners will use only virtual advertising elements on the glass behind both goals. However, Sportvision is capable of putting any image that the client wants to see directly on the ice, including live stats and game updates.

“For football right now, we do the down and distance for Fox and ESPN,” Jonas says. “Last year we added the play clock to that. Previously, we’ve also added play data, so, on a 3rd and 10, we’ll put a graphic up that says the team is 3-of-6 on third-down conversions. We put that kind of information on the field, and we can adapt it to any sport.”

Sportvision’s hockey system is simpler than some of the other sports systems that the company has developed, but, for its four broadcast partners, it offers a great deal of potential for both broadcast quality and sponsor revenues.