In this the Year of COVID, nothing should surprise us anymore, however, a recent story by Elliot Freeman, NHL investigating the possibility of selling ads on players’ helmets hinted that the NHL Board of Governors was exploring the concept. He also stated that ads on jerseys could come soon.
For those of us living in the North American bubble, this might feel strange and unprecedented, but for the rest of the globe, this is incredibly old news. In Japan, baseball teams are named after corporations. the Tokyo Giants are really the Yomiuri Giants which prints the Yomiuri Shinbun (newspaper). In European futball (soccer) the names on the front of the jersey are sponsors and not the team name.
In the world of Auto racing, we have accepted this as a matter of fact. Drivers are walking billboards for their sponsors and a car without a sponsor is a car parked in the garage, not running on the track.
The world has changed greatly in the past 12 months when the whispers of a Coronavirus first hit the headlines. Months later all large gatherings were put to a stop and the world of sports came to a standstill. It took almost three months for the various leagues and player associations to figure out how to bring the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat back to our lives. Player and fan safety became of utmost importance and to carry on fans would be locked out. While we hated this fact, we got to cheer and boo if even for a short time.
NHL season beginning
For fans of the NHL, the middle of December means 30-40% of the season has elapsed and you know who the contenders and pretenders are. Not this year!! The NHL 2019-2020 season ended on September 28 when the Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned cup champions for a second time. Almost as soon as Tampa Bay held their jet ski parade the question was being asked, “When will next season begin?”
That leads us here. December 20th, 2020, fans, and players are itching to have games back. the owners on the other hand are not so happy to start back up. NHL teams rely on ticket revenues more than any other of the major sports. Currently, the pandemic has not let up, and in almost all U.S. cities fans are banned from attending any large event. The loss of ticket sales has left most owners wondering if playing the season is worth the financial pitfall they will have to negotiate.
All the NHL owners and ownership groups are multi-millionaires, and a few are billionaires, but they are also successful businesspeople, who know if you cannot make money one way you have to find a different way. Estimates of a $1.8-2.0 billion shortfall mean owners need to get creative.
This is where the “let us put advertisements on helmets” comes in. While in this mixed-up crazy year we are living in, I see the need for this, however, once the cat is let out of the bag can we or should we try to stick him back in. This is the question that I feel needs to be asked. Not only that, but we must also ask how far is too far.
I do understand why the NHL wants to put the advertisements on the helmets this year. I understand the need to make up for lost revenue. What questions this has me asking are, “Is this the best way to make up that revenue?” and ” Is this a one-time thing or the new normal”?
Is this the best way to make up the revenue? I say no, the owners might be missing a golden goose right under their noses.
During the 2020 playoff, the NHL covered the bottom section of seats with blank tarps. Here is the opportunity I was talking about. There are between six to twelve sections that could be sold from game to game, or they could work with the broadcasting partners to electronically place the ads, as they now do on the back glass during local airings. This could be one of the cash cows to make this year easier on both the player and the owners.
NHL 2020 playoffs
Is this a one-time thing or the new normal? This question can only be answered by the owners and the league. The fear I have is that both the owners and players could be perceived as greedy and this could and will turn off a lot of fans.
If this is used to recover lost revenues, what happens when the revenue comes back? What will the owners say then? Will the players say it is good for the game because it reduces or eliminates the escrow and deferred monies? Will fans be turned off when they see the new helmets being used to sell a product?
Could this be something that could even reduce NHL ticket prices? I bet you are scratching your head over that one. A scenario I see happening is this, the helmets bring in one and a half times the ticket revenue, so an owner reduces prices by 20%. Allowing the owner to show “goodwill” to the season ticket holders and the casual fan all at the same time.
While this is unlikely, it could happen.
Currently, the AHL has helmets with ads on them. This was a bit of news to me, in that no one made any stink about it. One reason for this could be that minor league team may be a bit more financially challenged, and that ticket prices and concession are a bit more on the reasonable side.
AHL Helmet with Advertisement
To be honest, I do not mind the ads on the helmets, but this is the point it must stop. Freeman said that our coveted sweaters could be next. this is a no go in my eyes. I do not want to buy a jersey that says “Chevrolet, Fly Emirates, Qatar News, or Yokohama Tyres.”
Could you Imagine, Coors, sponsoring the Colorado Avalanche? Budweiser on a Blues pullover. Your children could not wear these to school or even buy them. the U.S makes it illegal for alcohol-related products to be given or sold to persons under 21. It is why promotional items sponsored by alcohol-related companies are limited to patrons over the age of 21.
Better yet what if a player is a strong supporter of animal rights and a meat company sponsors the jersey. Could a player’s convictions be strong enough that they refuse to play? While I am sure teams will pick their sponsors carefully, the complications could arise very quickly.
When I get the opportunity to sport my favorite jersey, I want people to know where I am from. I do not want to be a walking billboard-like NASCAR driver are. Remember NASCAR drivers are paid to wear the uniform. Think that a big company is going to pay you to wear it? Think it will be cheaper? Will you still wear it with the same pride as you do now? All of these are questions will need to be addressed by the owners and the league.
This may be the Year of COVID, but it does not have to be the year we throw tradition and common sense out the window. The NHL has the best jerseys in my opinion. The NHL has an opportunity to pick up a lot of new fans. People who never watched the sport before could watch it now as it might be the only thing on. Let us make sure these new fans see our pride in our cities and our teams, not some corporation.
Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing