Over the years, advertisers have found space on NHL gamedays in increasing ways. First, back in 2010, the league allowed teams to find additional sponsorships on practice jerseys. A few years ago, the sides of helmets for games were allowed. Starting with this season, teams are able to sell an ad on their actual game day jerseys.
The Penguins were early adopters of this, and will have a long-time medical sponsor appearing on their jerseys this year.
Greg Wyshynski at ESPN has a nice article about the league’s opinions and outlooks on where these advertising methods are at, and what could be next. In short, and as if often the case, the NHL is following the lead of other major North American pro spots. The NBA has had jersey ads since 2017-18. Baseball isn’t far behind, they will have ads on helmets this fall and move on to jersey ads on their sleeves starting next season.
The reasoning is simple enough, it’s a new revenue stream for a business looking to generate as much money as they can. The NBA has recorded $150 million annually in additional money coming in, for little outlay or effort.
The NHL leaders are taking what they feel is a “conservative approach” to be very careful about what they allow and green light to be placed on jerseys, but opinions on that can vary being as the Washington Capitals will be representing a sports betting company on their sweaters.
For now, the NHL has pushed back on the notion that more is coming, with teams limited to one sponsor on their jersey and no plans to “NASCAR-ize” uniforms with several advertisers. Similarly, the NHL has touted their “tasteful ice” and “tasteful boards” to avoid looking like some pro European hockey where seemingly every available blank inch of the rink is plastered in multi-colored ads.
Overall, the league doesn’t seem too concerned that fan backlash either will be high or is even all that warranted. As Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s chief business officer and executive vice president of global partnerships said to ESPN:
“It’s a small patch. We know how important the front of the sweater is. There’s no reason to change that,” Wachtel said. “Anyone that’s getting hysterical about that is listening to the wrong hype or they’re on Twitter. We have no intention of doing anything like NASCAR or what they do in European sports.”
To that point, it is a fairly small patch that would about blend in, if the sponsor color didn’t stand out from the team’s color scheme. Take this recent video the Penguins posted, with no real reaction about the ad that has snuck onto the sweater.
It may be hard to believe, but some things are even tough for Sidney Crosby! pic.twitter.com/SR6M4p0n2a— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 16, 2022
ESPN also covered the very natural question about what this means for consumers looking to purchase NHL jerseys, and what the future of the merchandise will look like.
The authentic Adidas jerseys that are sold online will not have sponsor patches on them. The NHL’s jersey ad policy states that teams should apply a sponsor patch at arena stores only if fans request it — otherwise, they’ll have the chance to buy an authentic jersey without the patch.
Wachtel said this setup could change in the future. As of now, that’s the only way fans can get the patch.
The “Breakaway” fan replica jerseys will also not feature sponsor patches for the 2022-23 season, according to Fanatics. Essentially, any jersey purchased at the NHL’s ecommerce store will not have the jersey patch.
It will be interesting to see how or if the merchandise or fan behavior changes. In sports like in the English Premier League, it’s very natural for fans to buy their favorite “kit” which will display a huge logo of an airline or a bank or some other sponsor on the chest area, just as their teams wear on the field.
While very visible, this latest sponsorship opportunity is just the latest in a long line of how sporting events go. If you go to a Penguin game, for instance, you’re entering through a sponsored gate to get into a sponsored arena and might be passing through (insert liquor or alcohol brand here) club area. Where you’ll see four ads on the ice, many on the boards and even a sponsored mini-blimp flying around and dropping little chotskies from the sky.
It’s the world we live in, with marketing and promotional tie-ins from start to finish of games, not to mention of course the television stoppages to get in all the advertiser messages that pay for the media rights that the teams and league get as well.