September 16, 2011
Look, we all know there are financial haves and have-nots in the NHL. Some teams are blessed with rich owners and ever-flowing revenue streams. Others have to scratch and claw for every dime. So it's understandable that the league's most insolvent teams would stoop to selling ads on their gear for some extra cashflow …
The Leafs are hopping into bed with Purolator this preseason as a sponsor on their practice jerseys, joining a parade of well-off franchises that have added this controversial fundraising to their repertoire.
The controversy isn't about selling ad space on a practice jersey — about as inconsequential a piece of hockey gear this side of a division champions hat — but, obviously, where it all could lead.
Yes, the spectre of European hockey/NASCAR billboard jerseys in the NHL is raised again, this time by Toronto Star bloviater Cathal Kelly:
In order to reap maximum financial advantage, NHL teams would have to make room by getting rid of their team logos. Nobody in Raleigh is going to kick too hard if the stylized hurricane is bumped. Just try replacing the winged tire on Detroit's jersey with a Chrysler logo. In the current climate, it's impossible.
But, let's say the NHL left this up to clubs to decide. And let's imagine that a few of the fringe or nearly bankrupt outfits decided to try it out. As soon as the predictable backlash petered off, how long would the Original Six hold out?
Yeah, because they're holding out so vehemently today …
The NHL policy to allow ads on practice jerseys is just a year old, and it's actually a little surprising the fad hasn't swept through the league quite yet. With regard to ads on game jerseys down the line, NHL VP Bill Daly said "who knows what the future holds" when asked last October:
"The whole business area of sports evolves over time. People in this room probably remember a time when there was no advertising on dasher boards, and now there is. So things change."
Let's be clear: Ads on NHL game sweaters are hockey blasphemy. We're talking "light your torches and storm the gates of Reebok" time. Save your Euro soccer arguments -- it's like placing a Dr. Pepper logo on a priest's frock for Christmas mass.
The happy medium between ads on practice gear and on game gear is the third jersey — a whorish money-grab in its own right, and therefore the friendliest conditions on which the fungus of uniform advertising can grow.
You make a third jersey look like Dale Jr.'s zip-up jumper, and no one will care. Just leave the real sweaters ad-free.