NHL jersey ads inevitable, just not imminent

(Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports)
(Timothy T. Ludwig – USA TODAY Sports)

Last week NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman assured fans that the introduction of jersey sponsorships is not imminent. As the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL continue to seek ways to maximize revenue through enhanced fan experiences and advertising, they continue to tiptoe around corporate sponsorships on jerseys. Despite estimates that the league could generate $120 million from uniform sponsorships, the NHL has indicated that it prefers to wait for one of the other leagues to implement jersey sponsors first.

The main concern for the NHL is how the additional revenue would be shared among teams. The current CBA outlines a 50-50 split between franchises and players, but it’s unclear if this would extend to additional revenue from jersey sponsors. Additionally, the NHL would have to address the division of revenue from teams in larger markets that could generate more than others. And there’s the question of getting the consent of the league’s broadcast partners, an issue the NBA addressed in its most recent TV deal.

The other major concern is the unknown reaction of fans. Some have derided advertisements for being too distracting or too tacky.  With the inevitability of sponsorships, fans will have to adapt to aesthetic changes. Considering the lack of opposition to a number of uniform changes across leagues, it’s likely that fans would still buy ad-covered jerseys.

(Alexei Bezzubov - AP)
(Alexei Bezzubov – AP)

The sizes and styles of ads likely would resemble those of Russia’s KHL. Sponsors are displayed with patches on the sleeves or upper chest with additional sponsorship on the helmet, reserving the center for the team’s logo.

With the NHL uniform contract with Reebok expiring in 2016, it’s probably a safe bet that corporate sponsorship will be included in the next jersey deal. For now, the NHL can only dream of one day matching soccer’s lucrative sponsorships.

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