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Rick Westhead

TSN Senior Correspondent

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NHL and NHL Players' Association officials will continue their push this summer to sell advertising space on player jerseys for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, asking $8 million for the rights to all eight teams in the tournament.  

Two people familiar with the matter told TSN the league and union have been pitching on-uniform advertising for several months now. While some sponsorship deals have been agreed to, no company has been willing to meet the asking price for jersey ads at the Toronto-based event scheduled for September of 2016.

"Someone paying $8 million? It's just not going to happen," said a marketing executive who has been pitched by the NHL and NHLPA. "They think they're going to get a global financial services company like Visa to pay that much, but it's just not going to happen."

The marketer said one lure for advertisers is the chance to pitch ties to Team Canada, a right typically limited to Hockey Canada's traditional sponsors such as Nike and Imperial Oil. (Disclosure: TSN has been a marketing partner of Hockey Canada since 1997.)

Spokesmen for the NHL and NHLPA declined to comment. It is believed the jersey deal would be for something more significant than just a designated ad patch, such as the ones used on NHL team practice jerseys and by American Hockey League clubs. The goal is to develop a seamless way to mesh advertising with World Cup team logos.

It's still possible the league and players' association will lower the price for a main jersey sponsor and find a partner, marketers said. The NHL and NHLPA have estimated the three-week World Cup will generate more than $100 million in revenue.

Several NHL sponsors told TSN in January that they expect the league to use the World Cup of Hockey to trial on-uniform advertising, a new revenue source most North American pro sports leagues are interested in.
In September, NHL officials told team presidents that the league would prefer not to be the first of the big four professional leagues in North America to feature on-uniform ads, even though the move might generate $120 million per year.

Advertisers say the NHL and NHLPA are also selling virtual advertising on rink dasher boards for the first time.

The technology, known as digital billboard replacement, or DRB, allows marketers to show TV viewers different ads – some may even use animation –than those seen by fans in the arena during a broadcast.

"Imagine watching a game on TV and seeing the GEICO lizard running along the dasher boards, scrambling to get back to its virtual seat while players are waiting for a faceoff," a source said.

Only TV viewers would see that advertisement. Those watching the game live in the arena would see the traditional dasher board ad.

The NHL and NHLPA have retained the right to sell the virtual ads without sharing any revenue with Rogers Communications or ESPN, the two World Cup of Hockey TV rights holders announced so far.

This won't be the first time the DBR technology has been seen in the NHL.

Virtual advertising was used by 17 NHL teams in 2014, The Sports Business Journal reported, but the league insisted it appear only behind goals on the glass above the dasher boards.

NHL spokesman Gary Meagher said no teams currently sell DBR ads on dasher boards.

Advertisers are also receiving more details about the NHL and NHLPA's plans for a pre-tournament festival. The festival will feature international themed days, celebrating the food, music and other cultural touchstones of countries involved in the World Cup.

Marketers said it's also possible organizers might try to organize a hockey-themed movie festival to operate in conjunction with the Toronto International Film Festival.