Agency Creates a Winter Classic

Cenergy Resurrects Historic NHL Rink for Public Use

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The nonprofit Aurora Ice Association has finished its first season of skating in the black, thanks to the efforts of ad agency Cenergy, East Aurora, N.Y. Seeing the need for an outdoor ice arena, Cenergy principal John Cimperman and his suburban Buffalo, N.Y., agency decided to resurrect the NHL's 2008 Winter Classic rink, which was in storage at a Buffalo Bills warehouse.

Cenergy volunteers worked up to 18 hours a day to open an ice arena for their community.
Cenergy volunteers worked up to 18 hours a day to open an ice arena for their community.
The rink was originally set up in the Buffalo Bills stadium and was the site of the Jan. 1, 2008, Winter Classic, the first outdoor regular-season NHL game in the U.S., pitting the Buffalo Sabres against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"This project was intensely personal for us in East Aurora," Mr. Cimperman said. "The lack of available ice here in western New York was awful. It's not uncommon for people to drive 40 minutes or more, and sometimes all the way into Canada, to get ice time. The satisfaction that came from making hockey and figure skating and even just recreational skating accessible to the families and young kids of our hometown is something special."

Working with Cenergy clients the Buffalo Sabres, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the NHL to get NHL Winter Classic branding rights, the agency designed a sports-marketing program around the NHL's Winter Classic logo, constructing a website, designing promotions, selling naming rights (this year it was the Time Warner Cable Rink) and selling space to local businesses on the rinkside dasherboards. Cenergy also put in 1,000 hours of sweat equity, clearing the vacant lot where the rink would be erected, hammering panels and painting the ice.

"Some volunteer crews were putting in up to 18 hours a day," Mr. Cimperman said. "The toughest might have been painting the ice. You want it as cold as possible, so you're down on your hands and knees, on the ice, midwinter, at somewhere between midnight and 2 a.m. It's a three-part freezing, painting, freezing process, and for a good chunk of it you can't really be wearing gloves."

The rink, the only outdoor rink in New York outside Manhattan, opened Nov. 1, 2008, and drew more than 20,000 visitors during the season, with the Sabres, the Boys & Girls Club and the Kiwanis Club providing low-cost ice time to people in need. As a result, the Ice Association ended the season $20,000 in the black and plans to build a permanent heated warming hut.

"We've gotten hundreds of thank yous," Mr. Cimperman said. "The best, I think, is when you see parents get out of the car and press their noses up to the rink's glass. They get this look on their face, then they tell their kids, 'Wow. That is the same ice that Sidney Crosby [captain of the 2009 Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins] skated on.'"

Mr. Cimperman credited Brian Jennings, exec VP-marketing of the NHL; Dan DiPofi, chief operating officer of the Buffalo Sabres; and James Santilli, VP-marketing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, with helping to make his agency's vision come alive. "All three separate Cenergy clients provided invaluable input, not to mention the NHL Winter Classic branding rights needed to create a legacy rink. Yes, it was a miracle on ice."

"I can also add that building this rink allowed me to fulfill a dream of my own," he said. "I've worked in hockey for eight years, with two NHL clubs, and in all that time I never once got the chance to do something just about every hockey fan wishes he could. I can now tell you proudly that, yes, I have driven a Zamboni."

Cenergy is already working on a new marketing program to raise $400,000 to expand the rink.