Post-Zamboni, TSN's That's Hockey Is Ready for an Upgrade

Canadians love watching and playing hockey, but they may love talking about it even more. TSN, Canada's leading English language sports television channel and home to the popular That's Hockey sports highlight show, recently tapped L.A.-based Troika to help them rebrand the 17-year-old daily hockey program and, as Troika creative director Gil Haslam says, stake their claim as the starting point for hockey conversations at every level. It was the first time the network had gone out of house for creative branding support.

TSN That's Hockey Open from Troika on Vimeo.

TSN is a joint venture between Bell Media and ESPN and the network carries the familiar bright red logo and crisp graphics found on ESPN here in the U.S. "This is one of TSN's flagship shows," says Haslam. "They already probably have one of the tightest brand identities out there, instantly recognizable from its color palette and 3D rendered animation. They came to us wanting to better fit this show within the esthetic of the entire TSN network brand. "

As "the home of hockey" for Canadian viewers, That's Hockey creatives and TSN management also wanted a branded show open that could remain fresh 365 days a year and be easily updated with breaking video and headlines. "Canadians love their hockey, and this show covers it well before and after the traditional hockey season," says Haslam. "They cover the draft and the full range of pre- and post-season events connected with the sport. So what this said to us was that their conversation with fans never ends."

A site visit to TSN's studios in Toronto helped Haslam and his team solidify their approach. "We put everyone in the room, from the top management to the directors, producers and creative team, and we got a lot of meaningful input from around the table about what they wanted to achieve. That roundtable discussion really showed us that what this show does best is drive the conversation about hockey. Canadians take their hockey very seriously. It's truly a national obsession. And this show has an in-depth understanding of just how important hockey is to its fans. They know their hockey, they love their hockey and they talk a lot about it daily."

Haslam says the TSN team was clear that although they wanted the show to stand out, it still needed to fit snugly within the network's overall brand identity. "This show is all about the conversation. And their brand identity is they basically own the hockey conversation in Canada."

Troika's primary goal was to land on a concept that was authentic both to the sport and to the nature of the show. "We got from the show's creators that the hockey season has different arcs: sometimes they are in playoffs, sometimes finals and sometimes pre-season. So we said, the conversation continues but the topic changes. One guy during that on-site visit said, 'We make hockey smart. Everyone likes to tune into our show and hear the conversations we're having and then they take those conversations to their local ice rink, or the pub or when they get together with friends.' From this, we landed on the concept of a chain reaction from this point of authority. This whole spiderweb of conversation starts with them."

Using a logo mark supplied by TSN, Troika's team of 15 creative directors, animators, designers, writers, and producers delivered a standard open that plays off the chain-reaction theme by pulling viewers through animated twists and turns that mimic hockey’s dynamic pace and hard hits across the ice. The text and infographics built into the layers around these animations can also be changed and revised by TSN creatives, based on exactly where they are in the season. "If they are going into playoffs," says Haslam, "they can change up some of the words inside some of the text layers that sit around the main logo." Troika built the graphics and animations primarily with Maxon Cinema4D but also used Adobe After Effects and plug-ins including Knoll Light Factory and Trapcode Lux, Particular and Shine, among several other flavors of Trapcode tools.

TSN continues to make better interactive use of live stats and data as it streams into the set. "They are working on being able to feed that data into some of their set graphics, so the conversation is happening visually at the same time," says Haslam. 

The "chain reaction" concept is also helping TSN producers shape ongoing marketing demands like coming up with a new segment or show name. "We wanted them to be able to take the package and grow it over the next four or five years that this branding will be on the air," he explains. "The important thing is that the brand starts driving those critical decisions and not an individual who prefers one color or texture over another."

Troika brought as much research and experience as they could to the table, says Haslam, who grew up a hockey fan in Detroit in the shadow of the hockey faithful just over the border. "When I met the boys at TSN, however, I realized that despite being from Hockeytown USA, I was a rookie in terms of my knowledge of the sport. Canada created hockey and it's the main sport up there, no matter where you go. These guys live and breathe hockey, and that includes every fan watching the show. Knowing that helped us focus on getting every detail just right." That passion for details translated into a very productive partnership, he adds. "This was probably one of the best rides we've been on. The great creative collaboration let us go farther in production value than we often have the chance to explore on other projects, and we had fun while we were doing it. There was never a no in the room. But because we also had to give TSN a flexible toolkit that could be updated as they needed, we had to make sure we didn't overproduce it up front to make sure it didn't fall down later. Finding that perfect balance was key, and I think we nailed it."