Mixed feelings for NHL players as league deals with jersey ads to generate revenue

Max Domi is about to start his first season with the Chicago Blackhawks after playing for the Montreal Canadiens.

His father, longtime enforcer Tie Domi, played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers.

The family will have donned jerseys for four of the NHL’s original six teams once the 2022-23 schedule launches.

Young Domi understands the league’s decision to include corporate sponsor patches on its jerseys starting this season – especially as the game continues to recover from the crushing economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic .

On some level, however, that’s not right either.

“It’s a catch-22, especially when you have a jersey like that,” the winger said of the classic and historic NHL leads. “You don’t want to mess around with those too much.

“It’s difficult, but we have to recover money in any way possible.”

About half of the teams to broadcast ads

The NHL Board of Governors approved the plan to include sponsor crests on the front of jerseys last year. The NBA began selling jersey sponsors in 2017-18, adding more than US$150 million in revenue to league coffers on an annual basis.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said during last week’s NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour outside Las Vegas that he expects about half of his league’s 32 teams have shirt patches this season – they’ll be around nine centimeters by 7.5 centimeters – not because some can’t sell the space, but because clubs can’t yet sell it for what it’s supposed to be worth .

“They’re going to be smart about it and make sure they’re getting fair value for the real estate they’re giving up,” said Daly, who declined to put a dollar figure on what the ads will mean for the league in the short term. term.

“Over time, it will be an important source of income.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman previously said the league would have to be dragged “kicking and screaming” to make sponsor logos on jerseys a reality.

What it took was a pandemic.

“Just a matter of time, especially with COVID,” said Richard Powers, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “COVID has seen a reduction in income, they are looking for other forms of income. It was inevitable.

“They started at a slow pace. I don’t think we’ll see commercials like in NASCAR for a long time.”

Varied fan response

The Canadiens were the first Original Six team to unveil a jersey sponsorship last week when Nick Suzuki was introduced as the 31st captain in franchise history – with an RBC crest opposite the ‘C’ stitched on his chest .

The response from fans after seeing a corporate logo on the front of the team’s classic red, white and blue jersey was mixed at best, while Greenpeace Quebec slammed the club for signing a deal with what a spokesperson called, “The worst bank in Canada, the one that contributes the most to climate change.”

In terms of aesthetics, Suzuki said he doesn’t mind the RBC logo.

“Just the way things are in this generation,” he said. “I know people who like the pure jersey. I would like that too. But that’s the way it is.

“That’s where the NHL is going.”

Suzuki, named the 31st captain in Canadiens history, is flanked by new assistants Brendan Gallagher, left, and Joel Edmundson. (Twitter/@CanadiensMTL)

Earlier this week, the Leafs unveiled their jersey sponsor crest – the Dairy Farmers of Ontario “Milk” logo.

The NHL added corporate sponsors to helmets ahead of the 2020-21 season, largely to help make business partners impacted by the pandemic whole.

“You knew something like this was coming,” Leafs captain John Tavares said of the jersey patches. “We’ve seen the headphone ads come in, which I think probably makes it a little easier to read.”

Risk-reward model

Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau, who was playing in the NHL when on-ice billboard ads were first introduced, said he thought a lone sponsor logo on the sweaters was just the beginning.

“If they have the right colors, it’s fine,” he said, before adding of the Leafs sponsor: “Milk for the kids – that’s a really good message, isn’t it?”

“We started wearing [ads] on helmets,” said Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. “You know, sweaters are next.

But Powers said RBC’s return is an example of how teams will need to navigate this new advertising arena.

“Their choices will be based on a risk-reward model and identifying those potential risks, as well as the likelihood of someone speaking up,” he said. “Who would have imagined that RBC would cause controversy because of this? But maybe [animal rights advocacy group] PETA comes in and says, “Listen, we can’t get milk there because the cows are mistreated.

“There are risks with every decision.”

Players still owe the NHL money because of the pandemic

Players continue to owe money to NHL owners under a collective bargaining agreement extension that helped get the league back up and running in the summer of 2020.

In short, the more hockey-related revenue — jersey ads are now part of that pot — the sooner that money is recouped.

“It makes the brand bigger,” Philadelphia Flyers winger Cam Atkinson said. “But I also like having that clean jersey… the stickers on the helmets too. It always gets a bit silly in my opinion, but I get it. Companies want to build their brand on the best stage in the world, so I do round trips.

“But I also like a clean look.”

It is now a thing of the past.

“I don’t think the fans will be too upset,” Powers said. “I think they will appreciate it, especially if it’s the alternative to increasing ticket prices.

“And maybe teams can keep beer at $18 a pop.”

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