“Repugnant.” “Repelling.” “Rolling in their graves. If you opened Twitter after the Montreal Canadiens revealed their new jersey last week, you waded into a cesspool of rage.
Blue, White and Red? Putting a Royal Bank of Canada crest on their legendary jersey? After 104 NHL seasons, 24 Stanley Cup victories and countless legendary players?
Yes. The Montreal Canadiens are one of eight NHL teams to make their advertising debut on their jerseys for the 2022-23 season. They thus join seven other clubs. The full list:
Arizona Coyotes (Gila River Resorts & Casinos)
Columbus Blue Jackets (Safelite)
Minnesota Wild (TRIA Orthopedics)
Montreal Canadiens (RBC)
Pittsburgh Penguins (Highmark)
St. Louis Blues (Stifel)
Vegas Golden Knights (Circa Sports)
Washington Capitals (Caesars Sportsbook)
Browsing through this list of sponsors feels like reading the house league standings. But as NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly explained to Daily face-to-face in conversation last week during the NHL Players Media Tour in Las Vegas, this is a necessary step to offset the catastrophic NHL revenue losses that have occurred when the COVID pandemic -19 ravaged the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons and sucked gate revenue. The same reasoning was applied to teams that launched helmet ads during the 2020-21 season.
The eight teams that open 2021-22 with shirt announcements won’t be the last. As Daly explains, the only reason the NHL’s 32 players aren’t doing it yet is that the other teams haven’t yet struck deals with sponsors willing to pay what the advertising space is worth. Daly predicts that shirt ad sales will be a “significant source of revenue” for the league, so clubs will demand large sums of money to rent the space.
“I think this process takes place over a period of years,” Daly said. “Once that plays out, it’s very important real estate being sold by clubs, and it’s a great opportunity for potential sponsors, and I think that’s going to continue to be very valuable.”
It’s one thing for each team to place an icon in the upper right corner of their jersey. Like helmet ads, jersey patches will soon become ubiquitous and fade into the back of most fans’ brains. Expect an initial overreaction followed by gradual acceptance.
“My own view is that it’s not the end of the world,” Daly said. “People have adapted to other things we’ve done over time, and it doesn’t turn out to be that bad. We will see. The response we’ve gotten so far is exactly what we expected.
In short: we have a good idea of what the current jersey advertising landscape looks like. And as Daly explained, it was a necessary source of income born completely out of the pandemic.
But what does the future of NHL jersey ads look like? How ugly will it get?
What if, one day, NHL jerseys start to look like the fabric billboards we see in European professional leagues, completely swallowed up by advertisements? At what point would jersey aesthetics become unattractive enough to create a drop in jersey sales, offsetting advertising gains?
Will we soon live in a world where NHL jerseys have more logos than the average college student’s guitar case? No. At least not for a while. There are no plans to add multiple advertisements on each jersey in the short and maybe even long term.
“It’s not at all in the current plan to create multiple patch opportunities,” Daly said. “I would say to the extent that it has already been done, it’s a long time, long after I’m out of the game, so it’s not going to be my decision.”
There is another potential revenue stream for NHL uniforms waiting to be tapped. Who on the ice gets the most screen time on a TV show and wears the most recognizable outfit? Without knowing the exact time spent showing them, chances are it’s the officials. Why not sell ads on their black and white sweaters, then? If the officials get the most screen time, the ad space could be worth even more money, as long as the sponsors don’t mind being associated with the zebras.
So, Mr. Daly, what do you think of the land?
“I think I must have watched the World Junior Championships and saw that they sold the position of the jersey on the officials’ uniforms, which I don’t know if I had noticed before,” said Daly said. “That’s a next logical question. I cannot tell you that we currently intend to do so. Once we take that step with the players, I don’t know why we wouldn’t take that step with the officials.
So don’t be surprised if we soon see officials’ jerseys adorned with advertisements. For now, however, that will only be a quarter of NHL teams. Sorry, Blue, White and Red. These are the realities of the pandemic.
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