TicketManager | Signs of the Times: NHL Welcomes Long-Awaited Virtual Replacement Technology

“This has so many applications and, in my opinion, will revolutionize signage moving forward across the world across all of sports.”

When executives tout a development at their organization as being revolutionary on a global scale, most people will—and should—take such a statement with a huge grain of salt.

But in the case of NHL chief business officer and executive vice president of global partnerships Keith Wachtel, those recent remarks to Sports Business Journal regarding digitally enhanced dasherboards (DED) that allow viewers outside the arena and in different markets to see virtual signage targeted specifically for them were not hyperbole.

As the first rights holder to deploy virtual replacement technology (VRT) for all of its games, the NHL is proving at scale that the augmented reality tech is the future of sports venue signage.

DEDs’ benefits to rights holders, broadcasters and advertisers are obvious. Instead of viewing in-arena signage that is irrelevant to them, viewers will see messages from brands that are tailored to their location. Rights holders have significantly more inventory to monetize and brands have a first-ever opportunity to reach out-of-market fans only where it makes sense for them to do so—and with dynamic, not static, ads to boot.

So when will other sports adopt VRT to reap those same benefits? They likely would all do so tomorrow if it were simply a matter of purchasing software and flipping a switch. But consider that the NHL has worked with tech provider Supponor on the DED program for seven years (Remember the early pilot at the World Cup of Hockey in 2016?) and at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Presumably other leagues and governing bodies are working on their own VRT systems—international soccer has had a few tests—and we can expect to see similar rollouts in the near future, but in addition to getting the tech right so that replacement ads appear seamless to viewers, rights holders and the future buyers of their new assets have other elements they should consider, including:

  1. Signage is no longer solely within the purview of teams and venues. With VRT, media distribution partners—whether broadcasters, streamers or a combination of both—play a much more integral role in the delivery of value to sponsors and partners. Their specific role will be determined by the parameters of the agreement between rights holder and media distributor, something all parties should have a complete understanding of before entering into any new agreements.


  1. As with so many technological advances, data lies at the heart of VRT, whether for proper targeting, performance measurement or determining the value to audiences. Rights holders, media and brand partners should be clear about access to data and analytics in the relationships with tech providers. Who owns the information and who has access to its insights are fundamental questions that need to be addressed up front.


  1. VRT carries the potential for further personalization of in-game messages beyond a viewer’s location. With the emergence of streaming, the future very well could be customized ads based on a fan’s IP address.

With the possible exception of a few hockey viewers who will become nostalgic for the days when they could quizzically gaze at rink signs advertising local businesses in faraway markets (“Canadians must buy a lot of tires!”) and sponsorship researchers who will need to visit NHL venues in person or get hold of a “clean” video feed to document a team’s deals, the dawn of the DED era offers significant value to properties, their partners and fans.

See the success of the program so far in this blog.