Boston's iconic Spoked B, Detroit's Winged Wheel, and the Chicago Blackhawks headdress may soon be joined on uniforms by McDonald's Golden Arches as soon as 2017.
That's because, while the NBA is still toying with the idea of selling jersey space to the highest bidder, the NHL is looking to be the first of the "Big Four" American sports to capitalize on the trend as it considers a new marketing strategy (akin to freeway billboards) that's expected to rake in millions of dollars for the league.
According to TSN, Adidas has won a long-term deal to outfit the NHL with uniforms, and the partnership may finally open the door to corporate ads on jerseys. NHL uniforms are currently designed by Reebok (which was bought by Adidas in 2006). TSN explains that Adidas beat out industry leaders like Under Armour and Bauer Hockey with a bid believed to be as high as $70 million per season, or roughly double what their subsidiary currently pays.
Ads in hockey are nothing new. NHL rinks are lined with corporate sponsors around the boards and on the ice at each of the league's 30 arenas. But Hockey sweaters, the sport's white whale of advertising, are traditionally treated with so much respect that players don't even let them touch the floor. In some dressing rooms around the NHL, logos at the center of the lockers are never stepped on, and some franchises, like the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, haven't altered their historic uniforms in decades. Putting an ad on the uniforms would be a giant leap that's already attracted a bit of scorn.
"An NHL uniform is a sacred thing, and it's an honor to wear one," Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler tweeted this week. "Putting corporate sponsors on the front would tarnish that. Don't do it." The missive was retweeted and favorited more than 7,000 times.
In November, NHL COO John Collins said in an interview that jersey sponsorship "is coming and happening." True to his word, the first examples could show up as early as next year's World Cup of Hockey tournament, and ads could appear on NHL jerseys for the 2017–18 season, when Adidas's contract goes into effect. According to reports, the NHL could make upwards of $120 million each year ($4 million per team) from chest-sized sponsorships.
Hockey might be the first major league to go corporate, but it won't be the last. NFL teams have been selling corporate logos on their practice jerseys since 2009, though commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is not interested in leasing space on its Sunday uniforms. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said basketball uniforms could feature ads within the next five years, and could net upwards of $100 million, which might be low considering the NHL projections. In 2017, the NBA All-Star Game will feature uniforms with advertisements as part of a new $2.7 billion TV deal with ESPN and TNT.
The WNBA already has corporate sponsorships on its uniforms bigger than the actual team logos. Pro golfers, drivers, and tennis players are adorned with ads, too. So it's just a matter of time before every other pro athlete is wallpapered with corporate logos and sponsors like a racecar. European soccer uniforms in the Barclays Premier League already feature corporate sponsors — not team names — splashed across the chest.
In sports, there are a handful of signature uniforms that have stood the test of time. The Yankees wear pinstripes, and the New York Rangers don blue shirts. Sports history is colored by squads like Big Blue, Gang Green, the Big Red Machine, and the Purple People Eaters. But pretty soon, the Raiders, in their silver and black, and the Canadiens, in their bleu, blanc, et rouge, may feature another shade: the color of money.