I don’t want to run the risk of blowing this story out of proportion, so I’ll choose my words carefully here.
Today officially marked the beginning of the end of the NHL uniform as we know it.
The New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals each announced the addition of advertisements on player uniforms. Sponsor logos will be included on helmets for both teams during the upcoming season, scheduled to begin on January 13.
And like a YouTube comments section, both teams rushed this morning to declare they were the first—as though this was somehow noble. The Devils even claimed to take pride in this blatant act of financial desperation. I mean, yes, accept the necessary sponsorship dollars. Like every other hockey fan, I want to watch hockey games again. But let’s not pretend this is somehow dignified. Sheesh.
Look, uniform advertising in sports is not new. I live in the same world as everyone else. And I’m not going to pretend this wasn’t always destined to happen to the NHL. Not to mention, with no considerable ticket sales anticipated in the near future—and massive player contracts to cover—a lot of teams are in tough economic situations.
So I really do get it. And even though I knew this day was coming, I was always going to be let down by it.
It’s not even about the actual helmet decals either. They’re small. They’re aesthetically pleasing, even. They blend with the teams’ existing color palettes.
My problem with what happened today isn’t merely ads on helmets for a season. It’s what comes next. What happens when Dunkin Donuts wants to sponsor a team? We’ve seen that in the AHL.
The door is now open to the slow, inexorable decline of the unmatched aesthetic of the NHL.
Yeah, we’ll get used to the helmet decals. Then come the jersey patches. Maybe something on the pants and socks. Then the ads get a little bigger. Then they multiply. I’m not saying the NHL will look like European leagues anytime soon, but this is now the trajectory.
Once teams become accustomed to this new stream of revenue, they will not simply give it up. Anyone who tries to tell you this is a “one year only” thing to stem the effects of a global pandemic isn’t looking at the bigger picture. Even the return of fans to sold-out arenas will not change that. More money is more money. That’s how capitalism works, whether you like it or not. There’s no such thing as “enough” money.
So we just need to prepare ourselves for the end.
To those who want to tell the rest of us jersey advertising is no big deal and we should ease up and just watch the game, give us time. We’re mourning a loss in a way. It’s not life-changing or world-altering. But we love hockey sweaters just the same. The aesthetic, in part, is what drew me to the game. Jerseys bring us joy. And watching them start to lose what made them special is just disappointing.
Yes, we’ll get over it. Probably. Just not today.