Advertising- coming to an NHL jersey near you


Hi, I’m Ben, and I have a problem.

I’m a hockey fan, and more specifically, a hockey jersey fan. Fan might be a little understated, it’s more of an obsession, or a fetish, if you will. My jersey collection spans much more than hockey, but within hockey, I have nearly 20 jerseys, which isn’t an absurd number, but given their price and my income, it’s considerable. I’ve been a hockey fan nearly my whole life, and even as a kid, I’ve loved hockey jerseys. About once a week all through my middle school years, I would wear a jersey, which matched with sweatpants, probably wasn’t the greatest look. I was dressing up like Happy Gilmore to school once a week, and it wasn’t even an intentional bit.

Now that I’m an adult, I still hold my jerseys near and dear to my heart, and wear them probably a lot more often than I should. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not donning my Patrick Roy Canadians jersey for a wedding or anything, but if we’re going out to a casual bar during the cold season in Minnesota, chances are good I’ll be sporting my Wayne Gretzky Kings jersey, or on a game day, one of my many jerseys from my hometown Wild or North Stars.

Being such a fan of ice hockey aesthetics, I was instantly appalled at the idea of the NHL bringing advertising to the currently (mostly) pristine game sweaters of the league. I’ve calmed down (slightly) since then, and read more into it, and have tried to make peace with what’s going to happen to my favorite article of sports memorabilia. It’s worth noting that some teams have a little advertising on their practice jerseys, but quite frankly, no one cares about practice.

Truthfully, I don’t think that the NHL is going to jump off into full-blown European soccer territory, but that’s where my brain immediately went when I saw the news. As referenced in several places, we would likely be seeing shoulder/chest patches at first, and it could generate up to 4 millions dollars per team for the rights to a space that has certainly been used for promotion before.

So am I still against this? Absolutely. The arguments can be made that it’s the next logical step in not just the NHL, but other pro sports in North America, and that it’s important for the NHL to be first to the pay window on the issue. I disagree with both.

Is it a logical step to sell out for jersey ads? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean you need to go there. It’s the next logical step for the NHL to mandate full-faced helmets for all players in the name of safety, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary at this time. Advertising is a cash cow for pro sports, sure, but that doesn’t mean the have to. There’s plenty of arguments to be made for the NHL’s revenue, and I’m of the firm opinion that the last lock out still didn’t solve all of those problems, unfortunately. But if we’re talking 4 million dollars a year, I’m just not sure it’s worth the backlash. I’m against jersey ads, but I’m realistic about it. I can’t promise other hockey fans will be so civil on the matter.

As far as the NHL being the first of the ‘Big 4’ pro sports to get jerseys ads and set the market, I understand the financial implications there, but again, think it’s not worth it. Other pro sports outside of North America’s Big 4 have to advertise on uniforms to make money. This shouldn’t be a make or break proposition for the NHL. I think being first to the jersey ad money will be good financially, but make them the butt of every joke imaginable in the ultra ridiculously competitive ratings/ticket sales/merch battle, and that’s nothing to take lightly. Let the NBA dip their toes into that water first, trash them ungodly for it, then jump into the pool once we’ve weighed the options, given the NBA’s model.

So against it as I am, I’m realistic enough to know that this is happening. This is “progress” in the most financial sense, and if we know anything about NHL owners, it’s that they don’t mind making a buck or two. So with the inevitability in mind, here’s my two-fold plea.

  1. Wait. As I mentioned, the NBA is also looking into jersey ads, and the WNBA is already is in European territory, so there’s a familiarity there. Let them pace the market, and learn from their mistakes. Get a sense of the backlash, get a sense of the contracts, the money, and the designs before you go crazy. Also, make sure to give us enough time to make fun of NBA fans relentlessly for at least a season until you decide to move forward with this.
  1. Stick to the shoulders. I know most teams have beautifully designed shoulder patches, and others have less beautiful designs. There’s a reason why teams put identifying patches there- it looks good. Teams don’t have permanent chest patches, because it’s not a good look. Save that space for the playoffs logo, the Winter Classic and of course, the C’s and A’s. Keep the ads small and on the shoulders, where they’ll barely be noticed, instead of on the pecs, where they look much more like a billboard.

So, hockey fans, prepare yourself. The days of clean and beautiful jerseys are coming to a tragic end, and there isn’t much we can do about it. The best we can hope for is that our hometown club doesn’t take on an exceedingly embarrassing sponsor, and that some division rivals do.