By Daniel Friedman
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To say that hockey fans aren't thrilled that Adidas has won a long-term deal to start producing jerseys for all NHL teams in 2017-18 would be a tremendous understatement.
Rumors had persisted for quite some time, but now that the news is out, the pessimism is in full swing.
By that, I'm referring to the increasing sentiment that Adidas will not only look to make significant changes to NHL jerseys as far as style is concerned, but put advertisements on them as well.
It's the end of hockey as we know it and, in fact, they might as well just take out "Stanley" and have the Cup sponsored by Geico. Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!
Or, perhaps we might just be getting ahead of ourselves.
Yeah, I'm going with that.
Let's rewind the tape back to January. Gary Bettman was in Vancouver to take in a Canucks game and was asked by reporters about potentially having teams put ads on their jerseys.
"I'm in no rush to put advertising on our sweaters," Bettman said. "I think we have the best jerseys in all of sports. I like the history and tradition and the way they look. I've repeatedly said we wouldn't be the first and you'd probably have to bring me kicking and screaming."
Bettman did say that they'd consider it for the World Cup, but "it's not anything we're focused on doing for the league itself."
Considering that many feel that the arrival of jersey ads in the NHL is both inevitable and imminent, the commissioner's statement seems to refute those beliefs.
My personal belief is that ads don't belong on hockey jerseys. But I also believe that they're not coming anytime soon, and I'll explain why.
First, if the NHL wanted to put ads on their jerseys, they'd have done it already. It's not as if the financial benefits haven't been plainly obvious; the league knows it'd be a boon, but for a multitude of reasons, it has elected to forgo what would be a surefire revenue stream.
Second, the switch to Adidas is completely irrelevant. It's not as if Reebok wasn't equally aware of the money it could rake in if the NHL were persuaded to implement these ads or was incapable of placing them on the uniforms it produced.
There's no reason they couldn't have already been pressuring the NHL to jump on the bandwagon. If they have tried, it obviously hasn't worked. Oh, and by the way, Adidas owns Reebok, which owns CCM. So while there have been design shifts in recent years, the corporate shifts haven't exactly been seismic. The way I see it, it's no more or less likely to happen now than it was when Reebok assumed the mantle.
It's also important to note that, with the exception of the NBA, other pro sports leagues in this country share the NHL's reluctance to engage in these types of advertising methods.
"It's not something that's actively being considered in the NFL," said league commissioner Roger Goodell in August 2012. "We like the look that we have on the field. We have a very limited number of partners on our field in general, much less on the uniform, and we think that's right for the NFL."
MLB head man Robert Manfred echoed those thoughts in a New York Times interview from January: "There was more chatter about that in the game 10 years ago than there is now. It's just not a hot issue for us. I think people have great respect for the way our uniforms look. I don't foresee that one; I really don't."
Why is it so big in Europe? I guess that's kind of the way it's always been over there, and soccer set the precedent for other sports teams in that part of the world to follow. Soccer is as big as anything can possibly get in Europe, and so when it makes a move like that, people take notice and try to copy that success.
Here in North America, this is just not part of the business of sports. Major League Soccer is an exception, but they're also trying to follow the model set by Euro soccer clubs.
And where does it stop? Because in Europe, there are advertisements all over the ice – in the faceoff circles, near the hash marks; if there's space for it, there's probably an ad there.
If anything, NHL teams have demonstrably increased their levels of creativity when it comes to advertising, so that they can find other revenue streams without putting a dent in hockey tradition.
We've seen ads projected on the glass behind the net during TV broadcasts. We've seen new events, such as the Winter Classic and Stadium Series games which, while entertaining and often mesmerizing, are also tremendous vehicles for advertising and sponsorship opportunities. We've seen mega television rights deals made with NBC and Rogers.
To me, it's quite clear that the NHL is doing whatever it can to make money, as long as it's within certain boundaries. Some teams have ads on practice jerseys, but that's about as far as it goes.
And don't underestimate the players' influence on this, which might even hold more sway than the fans do when it comes to relaying opinions on this matter. NHL players would be livid, and some – like Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler – are already chiming in:
Devils winger Mike Cammalleri also gave his two cents: "There's something to be said for the logo and hockey and the way it's been and the history of that and representing the logo on the front of the chest."
Sounds a lot like what commissioner Bettman had to say. Sounds like this isn't something a lot of people want to see happen right now.
I too have heard all of the speculation that Adidas will make significant changes to NHL team jerseys, and I'll tell you this – I don't buy it. I've got two words for you: Reebok Edge.
Notice how just about every team scaled their jerseys back to more traditional layouts and tried to eradicate all traces of the Edge experiment within a relatively short period of time following the original redesign. It was a disaster, one teams aren't about to repeat so soon.
And especially after that debacle, I think many teams are going to be reluctant to make radical changes, no matter how hard Adidas presses at the negotiation table.
Teams are trending away from "noisy" jerseys and replacing them with throwback, more simplistic styles. Think about how many ditched their threads for 1970s and 80s reincarnations: the Islanders, Oilers, Flames, Sabres and Flyers, among others. Even the Capitals appear to be joining the frenzy, and younger franchises like the Stars (since moving to Dallas) and Lightning have gone for that type of style as well.
If you really think the Montreal Canadiens are about to let Adidas stamp three stripes across their sweaters – which have gone untouched since 1946 – you're out of your mind.
So, in summary: Am I going to say that we'll never, ever see advertisements on NHL jerseys? I'm not going to say that, no.
However, I will say that the situation is far less critical than has been suggested.
Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter @DFriedmanOnNYI
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