Toronto's main sports arena lighting up big, ambitious screen network

September 9, 2009 by Dave Haynes

The Air Canada Centre is the major sports arena for the Toronto metro area, and home to the storied but lately hapless Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and the NBA’s Raptors, as well as a lot of concerts and special events.

It is about to flick the switch on what looks like a really impressive digital signage install that has more than 300 screens and takes a distinct step away from the norm of what we’ve seen in sports arenas. The big difference here is that instead of just deciding to hang screens all over the place and run some ads and stuff — the general sum of the normal “strategy” we all see – there was a full content model and business strategy worked out before the hardware and software guys were brought in to pitch their goodies.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment owns most of the city’s major sports teams as well as the ACC, and it engaged long-time DS industry consultants DDC to come in and help the company build a full business and programming strategy, which was then executed over the last three months.

The DDC guys (based in Waterloo, Ontario – where BlackBerries are born) are friends and pressDOOH clients, so keep that in mind, but I would nonetheless be impressed by the end result for a few reasons.

It’s a $3 million job, but the business model should see that investment recovered in two or so years through sponsorship dollars for time on the screens.They can crank a lot of revenue because different events and teams can mean different sponsors when you are digital, withgout the enormous work and cost that would be involved in changing out conventiuonal signage event by eventy.

Instead of screens all over the place, one by one, there is a wide mixture of screen clusters in a variety of configurations, allowing for a bigger visual presence and more interesting content.

At one newly renovated part of the facility, 42 LCD flat panels are stitched together. One area that formerly used still images for a history wall is now a cluster of different-sized and oriented screens, with rotating images and narratives on the images that can be heard if fans call designated numbers and listen using their mobile devices.

“The MLSE people are sophisticated and they did their homework,” says DDC president Stuart Kirkpatrick. “They could see the value in doing a lot more than just putting up a bunch of TVs all over the place, which is still pretty typical. This is very different.”

The screens formally light up next week for a Leafs’ pre-season game, but were already used recently to help pitch Toronto’s bid for the Pan-Am Games.

Omnivex, Ttuff Technologies and IBM are the key suppliers on the job. Mr. Lyle Bunn had an early role in the project, as well.

Press release here:

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