There will be advertisements on NHL players’ helmets this season as teams try to recoup revenue lost to the pandemic.
The New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators became the first teams to unveil helmet ads Tuesday. It’s a one-year trial with fans not allowed in most arenas and a financial shortfall coming with a shortened 56-game regular season.
"Of course, the teams are in a big hole," Nashville chief revenue officer Chris Junghans said after the team announced its deal with Bridgestone. "So, they’re looking for valuable, real valuable, tangible assets that will help us, guys like me, make partners whole. And it needed to be valuable, it needed to be dynamic."
The NHL is leaving jerseys alone, largely because it was quicker and easier to sell ads on helmets than anything else. Commissioner Gary Bettman said in 2017 after the NBA approved jersey advertisements that it would take an "unusual circumstance" to make that leap in hockey.
This would qualify, though helmets were a natural first step.
"This is very unobtrusive, and that’s something that we took into account as we were looking at this," said Devils President Jake Reynolds, who boasted about being the first NHL team to find a helmet sponsor in Prudential. "We wanted this to have a natural fit and a natural look to it, and we wanted to make sure we did this the right way."
Conversations about the possibilities from the league office down to teams began after last season ended. Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and Chief Business Officer Keith Wachtel kept in touch, and just over a week ago, teams were given the green light to find up to two existing sponsors to put logos on helmets that match with various uniform combinations.
Each of the first three teams got a deal done with the company that sponsors the naming rights for its arena.
"We were prepared for it and looking forward to the opportunity," said Jim Van Stone, the president of business operations for Monumental Sports & Entertainment.
Van Stone finalized the Capitals’ agreement with Capital One, armed with the experience of getting a Wizards jersey sponsor.
"We all want to get back in with fans in the building and get back to normal," he said, "but these are really unique broadcast opportunities and I think the value of social media and the ability to create content around our teams and players really made this just a perfect opportunity based on the current situation."
The NHL could sell jersey ads at some point when it feels it could make significant money from the venture. In the immediacy of the pandemic, it’s expected to roll out other places for arena ads that will be visible on television, such as tarps covering empty seats.
"There are only elements that we are having conversations on and looking for unique and creative and innovative ways to be able to retain and drive some revenue," Reynolds said. "The league has been very progressive in terms of kind of how they are looking at this and what some of those potential options could be."