December 23, 2022
As the 2022-2023 National Hockey League (NHL) season gets underway this week, players will—for the first time—skate in jerseys adorned with corporate sponsors’ logos. And perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, hockey fans don’t really mind the branding at all, reports Morning Consult.
Jerseys in major U.S. professional sports leagues long excluded any corporate advertising, unlike international soccer, European hockey, or NASCAR, where companies’ logos traditionally appear on uniforms, becoming ubiquitous with some sports and entertainment properties.
That changed in 2017, when the NBA began allowing its teams to sell jersey patch advertising, adding incremental revenue to the organizations’ bottom line and leading other leagues, such as MLB and the NHL, to start similar initiatives.
MLB currently is in-market trying to secure sponsorships starting next year, while the NHL is debuting its new advertising-infused jerseys with the start of this season.
“One of the coolest parts about these investments is you’re a part of the team’s history forever,” said Cameron Scholvin, chief operating officer for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team has inked a multiyear deal with Columbus-based auto glass company and existing sponsor Safelite for the brand’s logo to appear on the Blue Jackets’ jerseys.
Americans generally hate most forms of advertising. But new Morning Consult data shows that self-identified NHL fans have relatively lukewarm opinions toward corporate advertising on players’ uniforms, with 1 in 3 fans (33%) saying, “It’s fine regardless of who the corporate sponsor is.” A plurality of NHL fans (43%) said they at least “somewhat support” advertising on players’ jerseys, while 31% of sports fans said the same.
However, nearly 1 in 5 NHL fans (17%) said displaying a sponsor’s logo on uniforms is “wrong regardless of who the corporate sponsor is.” But compared with U.S. adults and overall sports fans, the league’s fans also had the strongest opposition to brands appearing on players’ jerseys. Nearly 1 in 4 NHL fans (23%) said they at least “somewhat oppose” the practice.
The mixed fan support for the new sponsorship placement hasn’t negatively impacted teams’ sales talks. “A real push in the last month” has contributed, in part, to NHL franchises “well surpassing” the league’s original jersey patch deal expectations, according to Brian Cull, NHL’s group vice president of Business Development.
Keith Wachtel, NHL’s EVP and chief business officer, said in November that teams could collectively generate at least $100 million in annual jersey patch revenue, but that figure has since increased. For comparative purposes, the NBA projected $225 million in jersey patch value ahead of the 2021-22 season, its fifth year with uniform advertising.
For the patch program, the NHL has put in place several specific rules:
- Deals have to be a three-year minimum term, but a five-year maximum term;
- Teams can partner with sports betting companies for their home jerseys but only if their respective home markets have legalized betting; and
- Clubs can partner with only one or two different companies.
The jersey patch program not only provides teams with an opportunity to secure incremental revenue from existing sponsors, but also to work with nontraditional sports marketers, said Cull, who cited the Toronto Maple Leafs’ home jersey patch deal with Dairy Farmers of Ontario as an example.
Some of those interviewed, including Cull, said that team and agency executives originally viewed cryptocurrency and NFTs as specific sectors for jersey patch deals, but due to economic uncertainty, inflation and insolvent companies, agreements in those industries have not come to fruition.
Teams also must work with the sponsor and the NHL on how a brand’s logo will appear on the jersey. On a white jersey, logos must appear against a white background; while on a dark jersey, a company’s logo must appear against the same color dark background, according to NHL guidelines. A proposed patch mock-up is then sent to the league, where it’s reviewed by legal, club business affairs, and consumer products departments to ensure compliance is followed.
When NHL fans were asked in the Morning Consult survey if they would prefer to purchase their favorite NHL team’s jersey with or without a sponsor’s logo, 30% said they would buy one with the brand’s marks; compared with 47%, who said without. Among the surveyed demographics, Millennials had the strongest desire to purchase their favorite team’s NHL sweater with a sponsor (31%), while Baby Boomers had the least (6%).
Research contact: @MorningConsult