Net Worth: So, Ads Are Coming to NHL Jerseys. Just Get It Over With, Will Ya?

Perhaps I should care. I just can’t seem to.

The NHL will have ads on their jerseys, at some point in the near future. Again, that’s both as much detail as you need to know and as much detail as you can know. Such is the NHL’s way… their reveals are slow-burns, designed to hit you hard at first, then let you catch your breath, then tire yourself out with flung rage and empty protests that ultimately go nowhere (because, like we’ve seen in the past two lockouts, the league knows it has all Canadians by the nuts, and we’re going to watch no matter what they do), and then you’ll just freeze and slouch and take it. Take it all.

It’s the definition of settling. It’s realistic. But the best of us make the best of it.

Yesterday, in an interview with some site you’ve never heard of, league COO John Collins said sponsorships (i.e. ads, but it sounds kinder to say sponsorships) are coming to jerseys. And of course, he shoehorned that stab with the reasoning that jersey and equipment manufacturers (Reebook, Nike, Bauer, CCM, Mission, Reebok again) already have advertising on their products. Well, they have logos.

But then one of Collins’ co-workers, spokesman Frank Brown, said, “This is not by any means a front-burner topic… The matter is not under formal consideration at the moment” (CBC Sports).

Okay, so ads are coming. But they’re not coming yet. And they’re not on the front burner. And when they do come, they’re basically going to be no more harmful to the uniform than Reebok’s and Nike’s and Easton’s logos already are. But, they’ll probably be a little bigger than that.

So, nobody knows anything, other than that it’s as inevitable know as it’s ever been, and nothing stops the inevitable. It’s what the word means, after all.

“I’m about to take a very popular opinion… no, I don’t want them to make NHL jerseys ugly,” said Sportsnet‘s Steve Glynn, on his webcast yesterday. “I don’t want them to smear them full of crap. But a lot of the resistance to NHL sponsorship on jerseys seems to be the idea that the jersey is sacred and no sponsorship should ever touch it…

“Advertisements have been on jerseys for a long time… is one little patch the end of the world?”

No, it’s not. And like Dangle mentions, most of this fear is coming from Canadian traditionalists who are afraid of doing anything like soccer would do it. It’s ridiculous, of course, but it happens. Those old, rotting, blue collar Canadian attitudes are coming from guys who don’t want to be seen as wussy little Frenchmen or fancy Italians with greasy hair. Just like American Republicans are afraid of universal healthcare, worried they’ll be too French or European. Because, you know, freedom. And tradition. Although Europeans have hundreds more years of tradition than North America does… although Europeans founded the North America we now inhabit. But, shut up… freedom.

The fear of ads here has certainly been amplified by what we see in Europe, where in elite leagues in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, or Russia, the jerseys are so lambasted with icons and ads and logos that they players look like skating NASCARs. The greater fear, then, is that the Europeans just don’t seem to mind it at all. They have accepted that their uniforms are just billboards for so long, it’s almost like advertisements on Dinamo Minsk‘s or Bern‘s jerseys don’t affect them or their day-to-days. And they don’t. At the end of the day, once sponsorships start to slowly invade the shoulders, shins, lower backs, and sleeves of the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, or Toronto Maple Leafs, we’ll just not care anymore. Same like we did with the black safety nets behind the glass or players are doing with visors. And yeah, there’s a good chance that in 20 years, I may just not hate Sportsnet, either.

So, let’s calm down. Sponsorships are coming and I’d bet the NHL’s going to give us a grace period to make peace with it.

It’ll start with that little spot below the right shoulder (where the Vancouver Canucks (Canuck Place) and Winnipeg Jets (Goals for Kids) have already placed ads in the past) and then it will spread to the above-butt spot, although several players tuck in their jerseys. Which means we can expect that to be made illegal, too, so the league can protect and guarantee its new revenue source.

And for all of you fans out there who are thinking, “Well, I don’t care if you put ads on the players’ jerseys during a game, but I don’t want it on the jersey I buy in the story,” I’m afraid you’re out of luck and without a clue.

Because the only reason any advertiser would pay for thousands or millions of dollars to sponsor a team’s jersey is to have that team’s fans wearing them around town, spreading the word and basically reverse psychology-ing you until everyone just associates the Canucks with Rogers or GM or whatever. (Sort of like how when we think of the Whitecaps we just think of Bell, or like how when we think of an English sports team we just think of Vodafone or Fly Emirates, without having any real idea what or who those companies totally are, or without the need to ever buy anything from them.)

So basically, like I said a bunch of paragraphs ago, just lie back and take it. It’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen in the NFL, in Major League Baseball, and in the NBA, too. The NHL is never first to anything, but it sounds like it’s going to be first to this, and then the rest will follow.

But I do have one question… WHY?

I understand that advertising brings revenue. I know that teams want more revenue. And I know the NFL and Major League Baseball have sort of passed the hot potato over the last 50 years, with each taking the other’s place as the Evil Empire of sports leagues. Roger Goodell has basically stolen that title back for the NFL recently, which might have been a retirement present for Bud Selig. But I also know that, yeah, the NHL will probably have to become a jerk to compete with those guys. The NHL has been incompetent for so long, but it seems like Gary Bettman is now just having fun realizing, “You know what, I don’t have to listen to anybody else, do I? I can just do whatever I want and bob-and-weave from failed Florida franchise to failing Arizona franchise, and nobody’s going to kick me out of this chair.” (Seriously, the dude is safe. This isn’t Ancient Rome or The Tudors, where leaders and emperors would just get killed by their successor and then that guy would get killed five years later, too.)

But really, the NHL – parallel with its commissioner Bettman – is enjoying an era of unprecedented fortune. For them, at least.

That same article that broke Collins’s quotes about the jersey sponsorships also notes that league revenue has jumped from $2.2 billion in 2006 to $4 billion today, and then you factor in the 12-year, $5.2-billion deal the NHL just inked with Rogers, and you sort of have to wonder why they even need ads on jerseys. More money is more money, I know, but the NHL still seems to be preparing for the apocalypse, for the hammer to drop. Why else would they have sold all their Canadian TV rights to one damn network, which is now swallowing up other networks? The NHL is still thinking like a guy who steals copper wire and risks his construction job doing so. Whereas the NFL focused for decades on building a brand that could keep growing and growing and growing, spreading its weekly TV coverage across ABC/ESPN, NBC, CBS, and FOX, the NHL was instead working on contract and living paycheque to paycheque. And now that it’s making money, the league has become addicted to cheaping out.

So that’s why I have to ask, Why? Why now? Do you really need ads, or are you just holding us hostage, because you know your Canadian audience isn’t going anywhere?

Oh, well.

We’ve had fun, North America. We’ve been footloose for a while, but eventually the money talks and hippies walk.

(Imagine if I actually talked like that?)