You may have already heard that the NHL is considering—or even planning—on selling jersey space for advertisements. Like one would expect, fans of the NHL have not been taking this news very well. Ads ruin the aesthetic of a team’s threads, and if there’s one thing all NHL fans are, they’re… uh… sticklers for aesthetics. I guess.
There simply isn’t space for ads on jerseys, you might argue. Have you seen European jerseys, covered from helmet to skate blade (almost literally) in massive, gross ads? There’s absolutely no way that the NHL would do such a thing. A jersey is sacred! And besides, Gary Bettman said that he would rather be dead than have ads on a jersey. The idea of putting ads on an NHL jersey is unacceptable! If the NHL has ads on jerseys, I’m going to burn mine, you might say.
You should probably gather your fire-lighting goods now, by the way. Just because an ad isn’t conspicuous doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist within an NHL jersey right now.
If you wear a jersey or other branded product as a fan, you’re personally giving a thumbs up to that team. Or maybe you're just wearing a hockey jersey because you like the aesthetic. That's not necessarily better—you're still buying an branded product. You’re telling people around you that the Hockey Experience is a good one, whether you have experienced it personally or not. Since you enjoy it, someone else might enjoy it too. You wanna enjoy it for yourself? Go to a Sharks game. While you’re there, buy some snacks. Buy a jersey. If you like the experience, you’ll buy more tickets, then season tickets. Then there’s the season ticket holder-only event where you’ll buy more things. And so on.
If you remember that whole playoff beard debacle earlier this year, a player pretty much stops being a person once they put on a jersey. As a player, a person is a product of the league, a marketable asset molded by their team or the league itself. Your ability makes you profitable twice—or even three times—over. Sidney Crosby poses in his Bauer or Reebok gear and he’s not only advertising for the league and his team, he’s advertising for the companies who produce the league’s gear. Crosby, just by walking around, is an ad. He’s a hockey player. You want to learn how to play hockey, so you go to the local rink—owned by the same company that owns the Penguins—and you learn. Crosby uses X brand stick or X brand gloves, so you buy those because if Crosby uses them, they have to be pretty good. And so on.
The truth of the matter is, even if you disregard the whole "person as walking billboard" stuff I’ve outlined above, NHL teams have been putting advertisements on their jerseys since the inception of some of their teams: they’ve just done it on the down low. The San Jose Sharks have had their playoff jerseys (rest in pieces), colored black for an HP product. The Toronto Maple Leafs share a name with their parent company, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The Winnipeg Jets, owned by True North Entertainment, have a jet on their logo that points—hey!—true north. The mother of all brands, however, has to be the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, whose entire shtick was a logo and color scheme from a Disney film. The NHL and its teams have never shied away from advertisements or representations of ads: they’ve just done it in a way that isn’t overt.
Let’s go ahead and say that the NHL as a whole decides not to put ads on jerseys. If they do want to put ads somewhere, though, there’s plenty of space. Sure, there are ads on the board, around center ice, on the Jumbotron, and in the name of the arena they play in, but a sheet of ice is white. There’s a lot of blank space. The Swedish Hockey League has ads inside faceoff circles: would the NHL shy away from that? Of course, there’s always the embedding of ads within the broadcast, something that’s already done with the glass behind the net. Believe me, the NHL will always want to put ads somewhere. Bettman can't really say "no" if a team wants to put an ad or six on their own jerseys. It's well within their rights. Also, a jersey isn't sacred. I mean, events that have happened in the past two years are probably a testament to that.
Like my mama used to say, there is no ethical consumption of goods in late capitalism. Okay, she’s never actually said that. But the point is that the NHL is a business, not your local corporate best friend. They don’t really care if you hate how ads look on a jersey: what they care about is that sweet, sweet sponsorship money. They might not put those ads on the jerseys this year, but believe me: they will eventually. Accept your capitalist overlords, and pray the ads won’t make it to the jerseys they sell to fans.