I’m a cynic, so when I wandered into Abbotsford’s Exhibition Park on Saturday to soak in the Abbotsford stop of the NHL’s ongoing Hometown Hockey event, I expected to get bombarded with branding, merchandise, and marketing of all sorts. I was right about the advertising, but I was wrong to think that the presence of all those logos would ruin the day for me.
Yes, the event featured a dizzying array of companies, all vying for my attention with glossy signs and booths overflowing with swag. But I quickly learned to look past the publicity stunts, and saw that the park was full of families — happy families.
Children darted around with hockey jerseys, waiting eagerly in lines for snacks, for autographs with former Canuck Brendan Morrison, for free jerseys (with Scotiabank branding), and free hot chocolate (courtesy of McDonald’s). Some kids couldn’t wait to get out of the thin February sunlight and dash into a trailer (plastered in PS4 and Sony stickers), inside of which they could escape from all that real-life hockey stuff by playing NHL 16, the officially licensed NHL video game.
For the tykes that had energy to burn, there was a mini-rink waiting for them, allowing them to play some good ol’ fashioned field hockey. (Most while waiting for their turn for an “augmented reality picture” with one of 25 NHL stars.)
It was a jungle of promotion. A veritable treasure trove of advertising. But if you stared at it hard enough, it morphed into a crowded fair full of families with laughing, smiling, hockey-stick-waving children running around and bumping into people, causing spilled drinks and dropped snacks galore. Seriously, one of those kids trundled into me and I ended up with a Hot McChocolate running down my shirt.
And isn’t that what family fun is all about?