Monday August 17th, 2015

Could a reported deal with a new supplier lead to advertisements on jerseys in the NHL? That’s the buzz after news broke on Monday that Adidas will become the league’s official jersey supplier beginning in 2016–17.

According to TSN’s Rick Westhead, the previous deal with Reebok netted the NHL $35 million per season. The new contract will pay twice that amount. Nice for the league’s coffers, but Adidas isn’t throwing that much money at the NHL simply because the apparel company wants to appear “cool” again.

Such a significant investment could lead to radical changes in the appearance of the new Adidas jerseys, starting with the prominent use of the company’s famous three-stripes logo. And if that’s allowed to take up any significant amount of space, well, it’s easy to make the leap to what comes next.

“If you’re already deciding on a major NHL jersey overhaul, maybe with Adidas striping on the jerseys, then it seems like it would be a good time to introduce the ads, if you plan to do it anyway,” a league source told TSN.

And from all indications, that’s exactly what the league has decided. COO John Collins said last November that jersey sponsorship is “both coming and happening.” By “happening,” he meant that the current presence of Reebok’s logo on uniforms was one type of sponsorship. What he meant by “coming” though is likely to be far more dramatic.

During a meeting of NHL team presidents last year, league officials estimated they might generate $120 million annually by allowing corporate sponsors to put their logos on jerseys. It’s not clear whether that money would count as Hockey-Related Revenue—which would mean that it would have to be split with the players—but it seems likely.

Are new NHL uniforms on the way for 2015-16?

The question now is: How far would the league be willing to go? Nobody wants to see the Canadian Tire logo replace Toronto’s blue maple leaf, or a Dunkin’ Donuts emblem in place of the Bruins’ spoked B. But as I wrote previously, sponsors might be allowed to purchases shoulder patches, or perhaps a nice piece of real estate to the right of the team logos on the front of jerseys, to help promote brand awareness in front of North America’s most affluent sporting audience.

That might be as far as things would go initially, but it’s only a matter of time before there would be specially sponsored third jerseys, or heavily logoed goalie sweaters. After that a full-on Euro-style kit, with the corporate logo front and center, would be just a matter of time. We could see something like that as soon as next summer's World Cup of Hockey.

And it’s a good bet that advertisers would line up with cash in hand to be part of the grand experiment. A 2011 report in Sports Business Daily found that the NHL would offer serious bang for the buck. “Hockey’s fast pace of play provides for fewer detection opportunities during game action, but when play is stopped in the NHL, the exposure ‘duration,’ or amount of time the jersey is visible on-screen, is higher in hockey than other sports.”

Of course, it would be inevitable that the league would face some degree of fan backlash if it messes with its teams’ looks, especially in Original 6 cities. In fact, the NHL would probably have a better chance of getting the Pope to agree to having a Church’s Chicken patch sewn on his cloak before they could convince Canadiens fans that it would be a good idea to desecrate la Sainte-Flanelle. The problem would be magnified further if the company buying the ad was not generally well liked.

But even the diehard opposition will learn to get along in time. We’ve grown accustomed to the slow intrusion of ads on the boards, on the ice and superimposed on our TV screens. Fans would probably get used to ads on jerseys, too.

They'll have to. You can't fight the future.

GALLERY: Ads we'd like to see on NHL jerseys

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