Well. We knew this day was coming eventually. It’s on the calendar now.
The writing has been on the wall since last December when the NHL began permitting helmet sponsorships. They said it would be one year. They said it was to offset the economic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Understandable. But untrue.
No one really believed it would end there. It couldn’t end there. Once a business opens a revenue stream, it doesn’t simply shut it down for... aesthetic reasons. Gary Bettman wouldn’t. Nor would the 32 NHL club owners who keep him employed.
On the morning of Friday, September 24, 2021 we entered a new era. The Washington Capitals announced the first on-jersey advertising in NHL history.
It’s the addition of a patch on the chest. About the size of a hockey puck. With a logo that belongs neither to the club that wears the jersey nor the manufacturer that stitches it together.
That’s never been done before. Not in this league.
And while this may be beside the point, the first advertiser isn’t even one fans can feel good about. Say what you will about the billion-dollar global behemoths that have found their way onto Seattle Kraken uniforms this month—Starbucks logos on practice jerseys and Amazon logos on helmets—but at least these massive, soulless corporations appear to be in search of something resembling a soul.
Hear me out.
Both companies were sold naming rights to Kraken facilities here in Seattle. Both chose not to plaster their own names on them. Climate Pledge Arena instead of Amazon Arena. Kraken Community Iceplex instead of Starbucks Iceplex. Both chose to highlight humanitarian efforts with all the millions they spent on naming rights. So even the most cynical have to give them a little credit, right?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t get all warm and fuzzy for Amazon or Starbucks. They make more than enough money and have put far too many small businesses out of business. But I do take some solace in knowing that they’re trying to be better albeit in small ways. Very small.
So who’s the first NHL jersey advertiser?
Caesars Sportsbook. That’s the first sponsor patch going on an NHL sweater. All I can do is shake my head. Like I said, it’s not an advertiser anyone can feel good about. There’s no virtue in sports betting. It’s the most craven manifestation of our capitalist society. Nobody’s life is better off for it. Even when you win, it’s not like you earned anything. You got lucky. But there is something sadly poetic about it all.
Money, money, money.
More, more, more.
But if that’s all beside the point, what is my point?
I’m not oblivious to the way the world works. I’m not against people and businesses making a profit. If you have an opportunity, why turn it down? I just hoped we’d have a few more years before NHL sweaters were tainted by this way of thinking. Are there not enough ads on the ice? Along the boards? Around the arenas? On every game broadcast?
There’s always more money to be made.
The unique qualities of NHL sweaters are the reason Icethetics exists. If I were indifferent, I probably wouldn’t spend quite so much time writing about them on the internet.
We buy these sweaters to feel a sense of belonging. To show our loyalty. To own a piece of our team. We don’t buy helmets. We don’t buy socks. Or elbow pads. Or shin guards.
It’s the sweater.
Or it was.
And that’s my point. In a way, this is a eulogy for the hockey sweater that dies at the end of the 2021-22 season.
No, I don’t think the NHL will look like the European leagues next season. But the ball is now rolling relentlessly in that direction.
Right now, there are limits. Four sponsors max. One for the home jerseys, one for the road jerseys. Another on the home helmets, another on the road helmets. But not long ago the limit was zero. No sponsors on any part of the NHL uniform. Limits are temporary.
What business wants to limit a revenue stream?
For now it’s one sponsor on the jersey. But this is merely the first phase. You know it is.
That was my concern in December 2020 when helmet ads were introduced. It was validated today. And I remain concerned.
I love NHL sweaters. Enough to start a website. And keep it going for 14 years of my life.
I hate seeing this happen. I do.
I can hear the chorus back to me: “In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter?”
Not to undercut my point, but no. Of course, not. Grand scheme? My life won’t be affected. Yours won’t. Nor will my love of this sport. I’m a hockey fan. A season ticket member. I’ll still be in my seat at every game. Watching on TV.
And I still love the sweaters. My opinion is that they should be the one part of a hockey uniform free from the corruption of outside influences. Let them remain a pure manifestation of a single authentic brand. One club. My club.
I don’t want a jersey with a corporate sponsor on the chest. I won’t buy one. I can speak the same language as these businesses. Where the words are dollars. I’ll support the game. I’ll buy tickets. I won’t buy the jerseys. They won’t be special anymore.
I’ll look back fondly on the days before the NHL abandoned what made its uniforms special. There’s a reason the 10-year-old me was drawn to them and not to football or baseball or anything else.
I will savor this final season of unsullied sweaters. Preparing myself for what’s next.
In the past, I’ve commented that I’d shut down Icethetics as soon as ads came to jerseys. I only said that because I couldn’t imagine it actually happening. Now here we are.
So maybe the future of Icethetics is less as a warm celebration of hockey brands and more a cold historical record.
Whatever the future holds for hockey sweaters, they won’t be the same. It’s on the calendar now.