If you’re an NHL fan, you’re possibly aware that much of this past abbreviated season’s Stanley Cup playoffs were held in a bubble in Edmonton. If you’re a diehard NHL fan, or just a diehard Canadian, you may even be aware that Edmonton is in Alberta, the province that is second in Canada in wheat production.
In fact, maybe you learned this by watching the NHL playoffs, because part of the deal to play games in Edmonton, it turns out, was a $4 million ad buy by the Alberta government to tell viewers that the province outside the arena walls is “free” and very wheaty:
Recently disclosed public documents show the Government of Alberta gave the NHL $4 million dollars in a sole-source contract between July 31, 2020 and October 1, 2020 in order to “promote investment in Alberta to provincial, national and international audiences through a unique partnership opportunity with the NHL.” But no public statement from Premier Jason Kenney or the Alberta government has made mention of the $4 million dollar payment…
What was purchased with that money is an important question and an inkling of what that money was spent on lies in a 30-second video message Kenney shared on Sept. 1, Alberta’s 115th birthday, ahead of the puck drop for the NHL playoff game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Vegas Golden Knights. The message was broadcast on the scoreboard at Rogers Place. Kenney touts Alberta’s low taxes, young population and “freest economy in Canada.” He closes by saying, “to hockey fans around the world, we hope you’ll follow the NHL’s lead and come to visit Alberta when you can.”
A short clip from an August 7 game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks also gives a hint as to where that money was spent. In a break in the action prior to a puck drop, the camera shows several large screens in Rogers Place, on those screens are Indigenous people dancing, then it fades to a tight shot of several golden brown wheat heads against a blue sky. On another screen there is a static image of the Alberta watermark.
See for yourself:
Tourism agencies do these kind of ad buys all the time, of course, but promoting Alberta to an empty arena is a just slightly strange use of $4 million, even if the images did show up in the corner of TV screens on occasion. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was a quid pro quo here where the NHL demanded an ad buy as part of its decision to site games in Alberta, but it’s certainly a good question to ask; Progress Alberta, which first revealed the ad spending, has promised to follow up, and fans of both hockey and wheat should be very interested in their future findings.