Are ads on NHL hockey jerseys inevitable?
Hockey is a religion in Canada. And for many Canadians, the uniform of their favourite team is a sacred symbol of Canada’s national sport.
Mess with Canada’s game and you may be viewed as a threat to national security by diehard hockey fans.
But times are changing, as the National Hockey League and other professional sports leagues in North America seek new sources of advertising revenue.
And one way seems to be by taking a page from the sports leagues of Europe.
You may forgive NHL teams for salivating after General Motors agreed to pay English Premiership team Manchester United US$559 million this past summer to put a Chevrolet logo on the chest of every Red Devils soccer player in a historic, seven-year deal.
Blatant advertising on NHL jerseys has been considered -- and rejected -- in the past.
But the league is now signalling that sponsorships are inevitable.
John Collins, COO of the NHL, delivered some devastating news to hockey purists on Thursday, telling Sports Business Daily that sponsorship is “coming and happening,” although a timeline wasn’t provided.
Selling such prime real estate to advertisers could net at least $120-million for the league, according to estimates suggested by TSN earlier this fall.
There hasn’t been any rioting in the streets -- yet -- but many hockey fans have been taking slap shots at the idea of corporate logos on jerseys on social media.
I think I speak with the majority when I say that I'll never buy another NHL jersey if they decide to go through with this Ad thing.— Ryan Barker (@Ryan_Barker) November 6, 2014
A common theme of disapproval was the feeling among fans that ads would tarnish the purity of the sport they love. One Montreal Canadiens fan believes that the ads would ruin more than 100 years of hockey tradition.
When the @NHL puts ads on jerseys, they will ruin the 100+ years of the Montreal Canadiens sweater, the simple red, white & blue of the CH.— Christopher (@HabsTalk11) November 6, 2014
Another hockey fan said the idea of jersey sponsorships made her physically sick.
The @NHL is about to sell out and put ads on jerseys. That makes me sick.— ❁abrayana❁ (@BackCzech46) November 6, 2014
Many hockey purists felt that European-style advertising on hockey sweaters was just plain ugly.
I don't care about the "integrity" of jerseys or whatever, I just think this is ugly. pic.twitter.com/oW5BBEL5ep— Draglikepull (@draglikepull) November 6, 2014
A number of hockey enthusiasts mocked the ideas of the ads by coming up with their own ideas for brand partnerships.
The idea is getting a lot of negativity, but I think jersey ads could be a lot of fun: pic.twitter.com/3xzTWwxck5— Jared Sexton (@NYRUnlimited) November 6, 2014
Others, however, saw the move as inevitable; a sign of the times in a league where players and owners make millions of dollars each year.
Hockey merchandise, arguably, has already lost much of its purity. Most NHL teams have produced alternate jerseys, special edition jerseys, even all-pink jerseys. And there are team logos on just about everything, from baby clothes to beer koozies, in an effort to make more money. Adult ‘onesies’ sanctioned by the NHL may be the most striking example.
Fans who vowed to turn their backs on hockey forever after the lockouts in 2012-13 and 2004-2005 eventually came back to the game they love. So would fans truly stop buying merchandise if New Jersey players started sporting a ‘Dirt Devil’ logo?
Skeptical and pessimistic fans may envision brand combinations resulting in the Toronto Maple Leaf Hot Dogs, the Edmonton Castrol Motor Oilers and the Molson Canadiens as worst-case scenarios. But diehard NHL fanatics may take solace that the new corporate logos will likely be subtle, based on the decisions of other North American sports leagues.
The CFL has allowed sponsors to buy ad space via small patches at the shoulders on team jerseys, and the NFL has done the same for practice uniforms.
The NHL has previously stated that it didn't want to be the first out of the four major professional sports leagues (including the NFL, MLB and NBA) to have branded jerseys, so change may be slow and cautious. They still want people to buy the shirts, after all.