NHL Wants Another Pro League to Test Game Jersey Advertising First
NASCAR drivers have sponsors plastered all over their cars and their uniforms. Professional European soccer and hockey players are covered with ads as well. The NHL may not be next up, but is considering the option.
Last week NHL team presidents met in New York, but turned down pursuing what could be $120 million in revenue if they were to sell jersey sponsorships, according to TSN, a Canadian sports network.
"Gary [Bettman, NHL commissioner,] and owners like the money, but they don't want to be first out of the box with this in North America," a source told TSN. "They'll wait for the NBA or baseball to do it and then be second or third."
In 1999, MLB considered a similar move, which would have placed advertisers on uniform sleeves, but commissioner Bud Selig denied it, according to TSN. In 2012, the NBA created sample Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls jerseys with sponsor logos replacing the teams' logos on the front, but did not go through with the change.
It was just about three decades ago when NHL teams received permission to sell advertising on the boards at their arenas, TSN reported. The Minnesota North Stars were the first to do so. The team sold eight pairs of boards for $3,000 a pair. The jersey sponsors were estimated to generate $4 million per team.
The NHL did not comment for the TSN article.
"As with anything new, you weigh tradition with the commercialization of sports," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told USA Today in 2009. "Obviously, sports are becoming more commercialized each and every year. We have that debate internally all the time. Where do you draw the line? How much is too much? You have to protect the look and feel of the game. You look at professional hockey played in Europe and there's advertising on jerseys and on the ice. You can have so much advertising on the ice that it can be distracting to players. There's a balance there."
In the same article, Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner, indicated the league wants to make sure jersey advertising wouldn't pull revenue from other advertising streams that already exist.
"It's a direction all teams are moving," he said. "With the advent to TiVo and the enormous number of channel and website choices, it's become incredibly hard to hold the attention of the viewer during commercial breaks. It's easier in live sports where viewers are more likely to stay with the program than change the channel. We have been in the product placement business from the beginning."
However the shift to jersey advertising in U.S. sports is happening. Starting in 2009, the NFL allowed teams to sell advertisements on their practice jerseys, according to USA Today.
In March, Silver announced that ads on jerseys are "inevitable," according to CBS Sports. The change most likely will occur within the next five years, which may result in other leagues, like the NHL, following suit.
"It just creates that much more of an opportunity for our marketing partners to get that much closer to our fans and to our players," he said. "It gives us an opportunity just to have deeper integration when it comes to those forms of sponsorship. Increasingly, as we see Champions League and English Premier League televised in the U.S., I think it's going to become more acceptable and more commonplace for our fans as well."
The top team in each of the top four professional sports leagues could bring in more than a $1 million with jersey advertising, according to a 2011 Horizon Media study. While these numbers may have changed over the past three years, they are still substantial revenue streams if each league would allow uniform advertising. The survey indicated the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and New York Giants could sell jersey advertising for more than $14 million while the MLB's New York Yankees estimated revenue for the same advertising space was slightly less than $14 million. The NBA's Los Angeles Lakers were believed to generate more than $4 million and the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks had the potential to reach $1.3 million.
The NBA projects the first years, if and when implemented, would bring in $100 million, according to a Time article when the advertising was first considered.
“I would certainly think the NHL would give this some serious thought,” David Berri, sports economist at Southern Utah University told Time. “They have the least revenue of the four major leagues. Clearly if the money’s there on the table and all you got to do is put ads on your uniforms, and you get $100 million, I can’t imagine you’re passing this up.”