I really don’t care about the fact that the National Hockey League is allowing teams to have advertisements on skaters’ helmets.
Honestly. Truthfully. Until today, I had absolutely zero interest in writing about it. I’ve covered the American Hockey League for over a decade now, and helmet ads are so second nature to me that if I didn’t read an announcement for the NHL, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the ads in game action for months.
I watch other sports, and know that when people start saying things like “This is proof that the league is running out of money!!”, it doesn’t actually mean that. The NBA is thriving right now, and they recently put ads in the corner of their jerseys. Every soccer league worth anything has advertisements across the chest that are bigger than their actual team crest. Most NFL games have more commercial time than game time. I would agree with most who don’t want NHL uniforms and arenas to start looking like European Hockey Leagues, but those leagues make significantly less money from other revenue streams, often play commercial-free, and don’t have TV deals like the NHL does.
The introduction of a helmet ad was inevitable. We’ll probably also see a patch at some point that goes right where the Stanley Cup Final patches tend to go, or on one of the shoulders. They’re good product placement for these companies in photos, they’re not terribly intrusive, and a revenue stream is a revenue stream.
So why are we talking about it? Well, it’s the announcements. The announcements are the problem.
We're proud to be the first @NHL club to have brand placement on our helmets.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 22, 2020
Naturally, you’re going to announce your sponsor. That’s cool. The video is fine. “Proud to be the first club”, though? Advertisements as part of the player uniform are an ends to a mean, not a badge of honour. Being the first one to announce your cash out isn’t exactly something to be proud of, either. No one celebrates becoming a sell-out in an unironic way.
“Proud to Rock with Prudential, home and away” is the second line, to imply that the Devils are bringing a piece of them on the road, as Prudential also sponsors their arena. Look, I get pleasing the brand, but you know what else is a piece of the franchise that you carry with you on the road?
Your actual crest. Not the name of an Insurance company who, who you will not care about when the cheques stop coming in. The crest. The stripes. The actual uniform. The Capitals came out with a similar reveal video this afternoon:
The Washington Capitals have announced Capital One as the team’s season-long official helmet entitlement partner with the placement of the company’s branding on the team’s helmet.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) December 22, 2020
“Two of DC’s Biggest Brands coming together, for a historic moment”. “The NHL’s first-ever official Helmet Entitlement Partner”.
This one might be even funnier. Again, like there is no pride here, this shouldn’t be treated as a great, historical moment. Just tell us you’re still trying to figure out how to pay all of Alex Ovechkin’s bar tabs from the 2018 Stanley Cup run. The “Helmet Entitlement Partner” bit is the icing on the cake – not only is it hilarious industry jargon, it also seems to exist so that way they can also claim to be the first team to do it – again, I don’t know why there’s a rush to brag about this.
The Capitals also made a point to announce the exact dimensions of the helmet decal (you know, in case anyone else felt the need to slap a Capital One logo on their own bucket), and also announced that their Reverse Retro jersey will be sponsored by them in name, making the the “First Presenting Partner” of the Capitals’ “Reverse Retro from Adidas presented by Capital One”. Incredibly, this one isn’t even unprecedented – the reason that the black San Jose Sharks jerseys used to be called “Black Armor” was a cross-promotion with a hard drive manufacturer. But eight words (without the Team Name!), a sub-brand and two companies in the name of a jersey feels just a little too mouthy for my liking.
I guess my point here is pretty simple. Get your money. No one sensible is going to blame you for it, so long as you do it tastefully and respectfully. But, especially in a time where everyone is hurting a little financially, and just wants to get away from that and get back to watching a sport they love, maybe don’t try to convince the people that the Bank and Insurance ads are a call to team identity, pride, and history. It’s okay for them to just be a cash grab. We’re all suckers for your on-ice product, and will buy into just about anything, but you don’t have to make it this obvious that you know that. Doing that is how you get people to start second guessing it all. Hopefully the other teams see today’s reaction and act a little more, you know, normal about their new source of income.