TORONTO — Blake Wheeler made his stance on the matter loud and clear, to the tune of 6,000-plus retweets in a few hours.
“Don’t do it,” the Winnipeg Jets star wrote, responding to concern that the National Hockey League will eventually stamp its clubs’ sweaters with advertisements.
“An NHL uniform is a sacred thing and it’s an honor to wear one. Putting corporate sponsors on the front would tarnish that.”
Further branding the uniforms of athletes who skate inside branded arenas, on branded sheets of ice, walled by branded boards that support panes of glass often superimposed with televised advertisements feels like an inevitability.
Wheeler’s own Jets waged some thrilling games at MTS Centre this spring against a team formerly named after a Disney movie while sporting a logo partly inspired by an insurance and final strategy company.
For those of us who remember when the game was played on mostly blank sheets, black pucks pinging off canvas-white boards, the encroachment of advertising has been constant. Unwelcome initially, but part of the fabric eventually. Economics trumping aesthetics.
Do fans want NHL sweaters—hands-down the best-looking getups in all sports—to follow the path of soccer and European hockey leagues? No. Do we really think it won’t happen in our lifetime? Also no.
“Personally, I’m a big fan of the jerseys the way they are,” says Lee Stempniak. A former teammate of Wheeler’s, Stempniak gave his opinion on the issue Wednesday at Toronto’s BioSteel Camp. “At the end of the day, you have to make everyone happy. I think you have to find some common ground and maybe compromise. There’s a way to tastefully do that, maybe pick one or two spots to put a logo or advertisement and not make a collage of it.”
A collage of it? Like, say, the logo soup Michael Del Zotto bathed in before each game he played with Rapperswil-Jona in 2012-13.
“During the lockout I played over in Switzerland so I kinda got a feel for it,” says the Philadelphia Flyers defenceman, who has skipped anger and jumped right to acceptance. “It wasn’t a huge deal.”
Veteran Mike Cammalleri hasn’t given the idea of commercializing jerseys much thought, but won’t dismiss the concept as a negative one.
“You’d have to look at the financials of it and see what type of revenue might be drawn from it,” Cammalleri says. “There’s something to be said for the [team] logo and hockey and the way it’s been and the history of that and representing the logo on the front of the chest.”
In January, commissioner Gary Bettman said placing ads on sweaters could present a valuable opportunity, one that would benefit both players and owners as a new source of hockey-related revenue. Bettman suggested the 2016 World Cup of Hockey as a possible testing ground but did not commit to the idea.
“I’m in no rush to put advertising on our sweaters,” Bettman told reporters at a Vancouver press conference. “I think we’ve got the best jerseys in all of sports. I like the history, the tradition. I like the way they look and I’ve repeatedly said we wouldn’t be the first [in North America] and you’d probably have to bring me kicking and screaming.”
Del Zotto, 25, chalks the debate up to a difference of opinion.
“Like everything in the game, you’re not going to keep everyone happy,” he says. “Whatever happens, we’ll have to deal with it. It’s not a big deal for me. It’s something everyone’s going to have to deal with.”