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When the NHL selected Adidas as its new jersey-maker beginning in the 2017-18 season, speculation began that we’d see a league-wide redesign of sweaters. Along with it: The introduction of on-jersey advertising in the NHL, which is expected to get a trial run in the World Cup of Hockey next September.
Seeing as how “ads on jerseys” go over as well as “let’s make the puck a rhombus” for hockey fans, the outrage and consternation was immediate. And the anti-advertising (alternate name: Black Adders) contingent has a new vocal ally: an actual NHL player!
Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets tweeted his opposition to jersey ads on Tuesday night, proclaiming NHL uniforms as “sacred” and that corporate logos would “tarnish” it. Well, more corporate logos, as Jets jerseys already have a Reebok insignia, an NHL crest and a “sacred” logo on the front that created and work-shopped and focus-grouped and eventually placed on millions of pieces of memorabilia ranging from toasters to shirts for dogs.
The Jets also play in the MTS Centre, so named for Manitoba Telecom Services, in a rink adorned with a few dozen ads both real and virtual; and then after the game every can go out to Pizza Pizza, which the “official pizza of the Winnipeg Jets.”
All that said, Wheeler’s right, of course: The idea that Grandma Jean-Marie’s Microwave Poutine could be advertised on a jersey within inches of the Montreal Canadiens’ iconic crest is stomach-turning.
But we’ve lost the war: the ads are coming. All we can hope is that the same NHL that’s managed to keep a least a few things as sacred and protected from sponsorship – the Stanley Cup itself, for example – will figure out a way to integrate ads while still managing to keep the best uniform kits in pro sports looking their best.
Finally, Wheeler speaking out is interesting on another front: The ads on jerseys undoubtedly benefit the players, either by increasing revenue and thus increasing cap space or through direct profit sharing with the NHLPA.
It would be interesting to see how many other players share Wheeler’s opinion on the sanctity of the jersey, and how many couldn’t care less as long as they’re getting their cut.
It would also be interesting to see how many of them would simply object to having no control of the corporations turning them into human-billboard-on-skates. It's one thing to skate on ice with ads for companies with which you don't want to be associated; having them on jerseys is much more personal.
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