Ads on NHL jerseys are coming. This is unavoidable. In the next year or three, it's going to happen.
Why are they an inevitability? Because it's a revenue stream in a league always desperate for them. Everyone understands this fundamentally, and yet when the idea was brought up at various points this week, the reaction was one of such revulsion that you would have thought the ads were being tattooed on the first-born of every NHL fan, and not the goofy, baggy shirts for which they pay $250 without blinking.
It's easy to understand why people would be so against the idea. It is new and therefore bad. As is all things the NHL does at every turn. That is, at least, the way fans see things, and in much the same way that people harp on about the sport's purity in general, the whole is not actually greater than the sum of its parts; if one aspect of the league's innocence is lost, then the whole thing is ruined and everyone is unhappy. Generally, though, the average hockey fan is perpetually unhappy with how every aspect of the sport progresses slowly toward the future, so jersey ads — inevitable though they may be — are gauche and soiling the legacy of the sport.
One imagines that a lot of people are picturing the league shifting to something along the lines of soccer-style ads on jerseys. A little tiny team logo up over the heart, and a big ol' sponsor logo on the chest. Or perhaps they envision a more European hockey aesthetic, where the team logo is in the middle but there are ads on the sleeves, chest area, pants, socks, helmets, gloves, and bottoms of the jersey.
One can, however, safely assume that neither of those things are going to happen. In reality, we're far more likely to get something that looks like this picture of Patrice Bergeron than anything else:
That Dodge ad on the Providence Bruins jersey is not too intrusive even in a close-up, and one assumes NHL teams would do a better job of tailoring the logo on the sweater to the uniform's overall appearance (i.e. making the Dodge logo Black and Gold rather than white and red). Also of note: That picture of Patrice Bergeron playing for the P-Bruins places it during the lockout year of 2004-05, which is important here. That's 10 seasons of corporate logos on jerseys on AHL logos and the league shockingly hasn't folded yet.
Also: A Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings or Los Angeles Kings logo is itself a corporate logo. (Hashtag Branding.) But people don't care about Pepsi like they do their local hockey concerns, so That's Different. And they don't care about the guy at the Honda dealership down the street like they do the local star player, so That's Also Different.
None of this, by the way, is to say, “Actually, ads on jerseys are good.” They're just not this insidious, stomach-turning evil over which everyone began hyperventilating this week. In and of themselves they are neither good nor bad. But they are inevitable, and if we all accept that, why get so wrapped up in the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth seen the last few days? (Other than “Hockey Twitter always needs to be impotently complaining about something.”)
To underscore this sudden hysteria about a thing that has been talked about for at least a year and a half, here's a tweet from a guy who plays for a team that doesn't exactly have a lot of tradition on which to fall back:
An NHL uniform is a sacred thing and it's an honor to wear one. Putting corporate sponsors on the front would tarnish that. Don't do it
— Blake Wheeler (@BiggieFunke) August 18, 2015
Ah yes, the sacrosanct and inviolable majesty of the Winnipeg Jets jersey, which has existed in its current form these last four years and is in no way a secret if unwitting advertisement for the Canadian Air Force as-is. (Look familiar?)
And indeed, here's a photo of three Vancouver Canucks wearing practice jerseys with the logo for Canadian hardware giant Rona and somehow not-turning into a skeleton like they drank out of the wrong chalice at the end of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." And in furtherance of the above point about the AHL somehow staying in business for all these years despite having ads on the jerseys, here's an approximation of what it would look like for the average television viewer, with a screenshot taken from a Hamilton/Utica game this past season (you can't even see the ad on the Hamilton Bulldogs jersey!):
Put another way, the vast majority of NHL jerseys are sacred in the way that the design on a Pepsi can is sacred: Not. Because frankly, NHL teams probably change their jersey designs more often than any given soda manufacturer.
Since 2010, in fact, the average NHL team has had jerseys change in some way (materially changing them in some way like new patches or logos, adding or subtracting third or even fourth jerseys, etc.), an average of 2.3 times per team. And that's not including one-off jerseys like those for Winter Classics/outdoor games or throwback nights. Why do they do it? Because they can sell more merchandise that way.
Not that there's going to be any sort of initial rush to buy new jerseys with the ads on them, though it might lead to a run on current jerseys if there's a definitive start date on which those ads would be included league-wide, as well as a big secondary market for used sweaters sans logos. But then, at some point, people will just stop caring that there's a small ad on a jersey that, again, probably blends in pretty well with the overall look. And would you really be all that surprised to see major redesigns of the logos to coincide with the Adidas launch that oh by the way just so happen to have that little ad? Redesigned jerseys sell because fans want to be up on the latest team look. That's why new uniforms and third jerseys get introduced so often.
Let's put it this way: Your complaints, two or so years in advance, are going to be duly noted. Here's a mockup from the New England Hockey Journal's Andy Merritt of what an ad on a Bruins jersey might look like; notice the photoshop job hasn't caught fire due to how sacrilegious it is. In fact, one might go so far as to say it looks............ fine.
It really is amazing, though, that a league with an award (formerly) Presented By Bridgestone, which plasters ads on boards and the ice and even the glass behind the net, and which has official partnerships with — just off the top of my head here — GEICO, Reebok, Pepsi, Enterprise, Ticketmaster and Coors Light would be criticized by fans as being too commercial is pretty damn funny. Every power play and penalty kill and shootout has a corporate sponsor. Complaining about it, or pretending it's going to make you physically ill, is really pissing in the wind.
Everyone said the same things about how ads on the ice surface a decade ago would ruin the sport forever, and now no one notices. They said that about ads on the boards a few dozen years before that.
And here's an area where ads on jerseys actually helps the league and players alike: This is hockey-related revenue that benefits everyone. Maybe Blake Wheeler will have a different take when it turns out these jersey adds get him an extra $100,000 or more per year on his next contract. You can buy a lot of seam rippers to remove all that offensive stitching with the extra cash.
Hell, it benefits teams even beyond the extra revenue; people have been talking for a while now about the implications of a plateauing salary cap — Craig Custance talked about it at length in a column this week — on teams with superstar players. Because teams like Chicago and Montreal just thought the ceiling would keep rising by 8 percent every summer, and spent the last few years signing their best players to contracts with record-breaking AAVs as a result, market value for guys like Steven Stamkos, Anze Kopitar, and Mark Giordano is much higher relative to the cap than it probably should be.
If your favorite team has elite players and also seems capable of competing in the near future, you should be 100 percent in favor of plastering ads on every square inch of a team's jerseys. That way the cap goes up because more money is coming in, and Steve Yzerman doesn't have to consider trading two of The Triplets because he extended Stamkos for mega-money and Victor Hedman needs a new contract.
And at some point, as Custance notes, there's only so much money in the system. Even the teams with low cap obligations and the ability to rip off teams that need to move space (like the Islanders did to Chicago and Boston last September) will one day just not have the ability to take on even middling contracts if prices for high-end players keep rising like they have, but the cap stays flat.
So if anything, ads on jerseys do in some way help the league and your favorite team. You might not like how they look, but it really, really, really isn't as big a deal as most people seem to be making of it.
Yeah, maybe people should start being concerned when it's something like “Connor McDavid, Presented by Canadian Tire.” But until then, take it easy, buddy. It's not the end of the world.
All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.
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