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Sports Authority

Time to embrace branding

| Thursday, November 19, 2015

There’s a baffling irony to the outrage that always manages to show up whenever a discussion of advertisement on American sports jerseys is initiated by leagues and teams across the country. The NHL is the most recent potential perpetrator of what seems to be — according to the reactions of hockey fans both rabid and casual — the cardinal sin of American sports franchise ownership.

The NHL’s branding scheme will be taking a major step in a new direction within the year, as their longtime partnership with Reebok will dissolve in favor of a new jersey supply contract with Adidas starting in the 2016-17 season. The previous deal between Reebok and the NHL earned the league a reported $35 million per season — and reports around the league suggest that the newfound deal with Adidas is worth roughly twice that much.

This revelation, partnered with prophetic words and inquiries conducted by both the central league offices and individual teams, seems to suggest jersey ads are as close as they have ever been to becoming a part of a major American sports league (sorry, Major League Soccer). Both locally and via the internet, reactions to the prospect seem to be lukewarm at best and, usually, outright hostile at worst. In a consumer kerfuffle matched in ferocity only by the ardent defenders of Christmas in their war against Starbucks, many online personalities both named and anonymous have gone on record as saying they will never purchase a jersey again should the league choose to pin a small Tim Horton’s logo on the right breast of their favorite team’s sweater.

I understand where these ardent supporters of tradition are coming from. Imagine the giant interlocking U-A of the Under Armour logo occupying space on the Notre Dame football team’s shoulders, or the top of their helmets. Uniforms, it seems, are considered a far more sacred space than, say, the side boards at a hockey arena. Still, this would hardly be an unprecedented change for the NHL in particular. Jerseys from professional hockey leagues around the world look more like NASCAR jumpsuits than hockey sweaters. Indeed, even the NHL’s minor league affiliates in the American Hockey League are already utilizing small, unobtrusive logos on their sweaters. Would taking the next step and implementing such a minor change to the NHL’s image really prompt such a drastic consumer response, or is this another example of the internet grossly overreacting to an issue that most people couldn’t care less about?

Personally, I think it’s only a matter of time before it happens — both in the NHL and elsewhere in the American sports world. And while the small Pepsi logo on the breast of the Rockford Icehogs’ current sweaters doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I must admit that I care far less about their appearance than I do that of my own team, the Chicago Blackhawks (though to be fair, jersey ads could be the least of that particular organization’s problems, with renewed cries to remove native imagery beginning to gain some traction). Still, I don’t think something so insignificant would affect my consuming habits — I’d still buy ‘Hawks merchandise and support my team both in person and from home.

Perhaps that’s what the NHL is counting on.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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