Inside the first ad-era deals for NHL jerseys
When the 2022-23 NHL season rolls around, expect most, if not all, league jerseys to wear a new addition, only a few inches wide but deeper in their impact on the clubs of the league.
The Washington Capitals became the first NHL team to announce a “shirt patch partner” at the end of last year, their multi-year deal with Caesars Sportsbook reserving space for the betting company’s logo on the Capitals’ home and third jerseys for the upcoming campaign and beyond. of the. The Blue Jackets and Penguins joined the fray just recently, Columbus announcing last month, window repair company Safelite will feature on its home, away and third jerseys next season, Pittsburgh announcing this week, healthcare company Highmark will be featured on their threads.
These changes usher in a new era of NHL jersey ads that should soon include the rest of the league’s 32 clubs, with the league’s board of governors formally approving the addition of jersey ads last August.
The exact terms of the deals were not disclosed by the clubs. But according to those who helped create the league’s first ever, all signs point to the sums being anything but light.
“It’s pretty big,” says Jim Van Stone of the financial benefits of jersey endorsement deals. Currently president of business operations and chief commercial officer of Monumental Sports & Entertainment — which owns and operates the Capitals — Van Stone was instrumental in securing the Caesars Sportsbook deal for his organization. “There are probably two really dominant opportunities from a partner perspective, when you look at investment levels. I think one is called arena rights. The second is jersey right participation. for us it’s a big deal, it’s a big opportunity that the league has opened up for teams at the grassroots level.
“I think the economy really competes with naming rights partnerships for arenas.”
For frame of reference, the Capitals’ partnership with Capital One for the team’s arena naming rights in DC is would have worth $10 million a year.
NHL Chief Business Officer and Senior Executive Vice President Keith Wachtel says he believes that number is correct, as is the estimate that NHL clubs will earn between $5 million and $10 million a year from to their advertising agreements on jerseys.
“I think that’s right – obviously every trade will be different, every market will be different,” Wachtel says. “One thing to keep in mind is that they’re using the shirt for new partnerships, which is additional revenue. They’re using it as part of a larger relationship. It’s not just for the jersey – this includes other building assets, media assets, hospitality, all of that, so I think that range is accurate when you look at the all-in.
Key to landing in this expected range is the fact that the league has opened the door for teams to sign multiple jersey advertising deals, to partner with different companies for their home and away jerseys. Which means a different approach to selling space on either jersey – while the Blue Jackets signed on to display a company’s logo on three different jersey iterations, the Capitals and Penguins opt for separate partnerships for their home and away sons.
“It allows us to really identify the core motivations of a brand we associate with,” Van Stone says of this difference in approach. “[For] some people it’s about that hometown feel, the hometown connection, and then for others it’s about the away jersey really being a North American platform, because the teams will play in 31 other markets outside of their home market on an annual basis.”
Wachtel sees the potential going even further, beyond these 32 markets alone.
“You are also looking for global brands, especially for us. We are a global sport, with a significant number of players coming from abroad, a large number of All-Stars coming from abroad. We play games overseas. So as you look at it, it’s not just about the local market,” he says. “While there will certainly be opportunities for our clubs with local market businesses, healthcare, financial services etc., I see some of our clubs looking at global brands who are looking for the global exposure that the NHL can offer.”
Beyond the different approaches regarding the number of advertisers a team partners with, it is also possible to take different paths in terms of displaying the advertising patch – the league program stipulates that the logo of the advertiser must fit within a space of three inches by 3.5. inch patch, which can be positioned on the right side of the chest, left side of the chest, right shoulder, or left shoulder, depending on a particular team’s jersey design.
The NHL has long seemed reluctant to introduce jersey ads – commissioner Gary Bettman said in 2015 and 2016 the league should be ‘kicked and shouted’ to allow them into the NHL – but the situation seems to have changed given the significant financial impact of the pandemic. Following early signs of this impact, the league focused on creating new revenue streams for teams, Van Stone says, starting with headset ads and forms of virtual broadcast signage, and now expanding to jersey ads.
While the biggest flurry of announcements on this new front is yet to come, initial fan reaction has been largely one of disappointment, with some ominously pointing to comments like those from Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon. Talk with Athletic’s Sean Shapiro last June, Dundon said of the potential for jersey commercials in the NHL: “Look, I would be very, very extreme. Like, for me, if we look like Formula 1 or NASCAR, that would be fine with me.
Seeing advertisements on jerseys has long been a point of contention for fans in the sports world. Paul Lucas, who has made a name for himself as one of the foremost experts on sports aesthetics during his two decades of writing on the subject and running the popular website Uni Watch, understands the reasons behind it better than anyone. to this feeling. And he thinks the disappointment will be particularly poignant for North American hockey fans, given the particular jerseys that will soon be stitched with ads.
“I’m disappointed with uniform ads in almost every sport, not just hockey, but I’m thinking hockey in particular, because the hockey jersey seems to have a bigger mystique than jerseys in other sports,” says Lucas.
“And the NHL has been pretty good so far in keeping the jersey – I don’t want to say pure – but they haven’t cluttered it with a lot of things that we’ve seen in other sports. The Adidas logo, the manufacturer’s logo, is on the back of the NHL jersey, not on the chest or even on the sleeve.When NHL teams make things like green jerseys for St. Patrick’s Day or camouflage jerseys for military support, they only do it pre-game, not in-game, so the NHL has been pretty good at preserving the jersey and the power behind it.”
For Lukas and many fans, however, there’s a sense that putting another company’s logo on NHL jerseys negates that mystique. It changes something about their relationship with these jerseys, if only slightly.
“Is this the end of the world? No. We’ve seen it in the NBA and in other sports. But it’s part of a kind of drip, drip, or kind of death by a thousand cuts – things that make the sport a little less enjoyable, a little more boring,” says Lukas.
“In hockey, you have this big iconic logo, and I think it’s a shame that this logo now has to compete or be kind of diminished slightly by, or be distracted or interrupted by, an advertising logo – a different logo that doesn’t has nothing to do with the team…. I think it devalues and weakens that bond between the uniform and the fan, and between the team and the fan.
That there is a portion of fans who are reluctant to see ads on NHL jerseys is not news to the league, says Wachtel, who points to the league’s decision to continue selling jerseys to fans without no additional logos once ads join the fray. 2022-23.
“We wanted to make sure fans had the flexibility and option to buy the authentic shirt that the player is wearing with the branding on it, or to buy without the branding on it, as some fans won’t want to have a logo on their prized Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames or Pittsburgh Penguins jersey,” he says.
Part of the reluctance to see more ads seep into the aesthetics of the game is probably related to what hockey fans have long seen about how ads are used in many European leagues, where logos often invade any available surface on any equipment. The NHL is unlikely to come close to that point. But for lovers of jersey culture, other examples closer to home are enough to give them pause.
“I think football is a more realistic thing, where basically the logo or the name of the advertiser takes precedence over the branding of the team. I think that’s a concern in all North American sports,” says Lukas, “All you have to do is watch the WNBA or the G League, whose name itself is an advertisement. … If you look at these leagues, you can sort of see a more football-like approach, where the team name is subordinate, often, to the advertised name.
“I don’t think you’re going to see anything like European hockey, it seems a bit far-fetched for the NHL. But something like football? Yes, I think that’s a legitimate concern.
At this time, Wachtel says, the league has no plans to significantly alter the current iteration of the NHL jersey to accommodate more ads.
“We wanted to make sure that we provided a tasteful and flexible approach, knowing that there will always be detractors for putting logos on anything, and certainly jerseys,” he says. “We wanted to make sure, very clearly and from the start, that this was not a replacement of the most important part of the sweater, which is the team logo on the front. That we were going to work as part of the sweater.”
That said, there is one aspect of European football’s approach to shirt advertisements that the NHL could one day adopt, he says – removing the option for fans who prefer to spend their money on shirts without additional logos.
“Maybe we will get there one day, the same way [with] all European football kits, there’s only one – it’s the one you buy in the store, it’s the one you buy in the arena, it’s the one the players wear,” explains Wachtel. “But for us, given the nature of our sweater in this initial phase, we wanted to give that flexibility and option to our fans.”