NHL COO John Collins: "Jersey advertisements are coming"

NHL COO John Collins says the day is coming when advertisements will appear on team uniforms.
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It's one of the oldest truisms of hockey: You play for the logo on the front and not the name on the back.

But will NHL players still feel the same when that logo is something like the Golden Arches?

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With the league looking to round up every last dollar, the day when corporate symbols will join iconic emblems like Boston's spoked B, Detroit's winged wheel or Chicago's Indian chief has long been regarded as more of a matter of when than if.

Now, it seems that “when” maybe be soon. Really soon.

Speaking to SportsBusiness Journal at this week's Neulion Sports Media and Technology Conference, NHL COO John Collins said that jersey sponsorship is both “coming and happening.”

By “happening,” he means advertising that might be less noticeable to the average fan. For example, having Reebok's brand name on the back of jerseys is one form. So are the small patches on the practice jerseys of the Los Angeles Kings (McDonald's) and Detroit Red Wings (Amway).

By “coming”? Well, it sounds like the league has changed its position on more obvious marketing partnerships since the off-season. And who can blame it? According to TSN, league officials estimated that jersey ad sales would generate about $120 million annually, or about $4 million per team.

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That's not small change. It's probably not the sort of coin that's going to allow a Bell Canada logo to replace the CH on la Sainte Flanelle, but it might buy shoulder patches or a nice piece of real estate to the right of the main logo on the jersey front.

And that's probably as far as they'd go, at least to start. Maybe then a specially sponsored third jersey, or ads just on goalie sweaters. But that European-style kit with the corporate logo front and center? That's just a matter of time.

And the timing is key. Initially, there were reports that the NHL didn't want to be the first North American league to break with tradition and embrace such crass commercialism. But being first makes sense. It would allow the NHL to set the market, and it would force corporations come to the league rather than using it as leverage to get a better deal with, say, their local NBA franchises.

Of course they'll have to weigh all that filthy lucre against the inevitable fan backlash. NHL poobahs will probably want to turn off their Twitter machines, set their email responses to "out of office" for a few weeks, and enter through the back door to dodge the pitchfork and flaming torch crowd. But even the diehards will climb back on board in time. Because in the end they all cheer for the laundry, no matter whose logo is on the front.