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Rest easily, NHL fans. Players won't look like this anytime soon

Ken Campbell
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German League action (Photo by Thomas Langer/Bongarts/Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Rest easily, NHL fans. Players won't look like this anytime soon

Ken Campbell
By:

The NHL struck a new seven-year partnership with adidas for sweaters and apparel and it's worth so much money that the league doesn't have to worry about putting advertising on its players anytime soon.

Score one for the traditionalists. When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s seven-year partnership with adidas, he could not have been more adamant in squelching speculation that we could soon be seeing advertising on NHL sweaters. (And yes, they’re sweaters in hockey, not jerseys.)

Bettman could not have been more forceful, more unequivocal in his disdain for sullying NHL sweaters with advertising. All signs are pointing toward some form of advertising for the World Cup, which confirms the status of the tournament as nothing more than a cash grab for the players and league, one which will have no enduring effect on the world of international hockey and will serve as an entertainment spectacle for North American fans.

So advertising in that tournament will mean nothing. But in the NHL, for the time being at least, it will not happen on Bettman’s watch. The commissioner reiterated that the NHL, “certainly won’t be the first (league),” and that preserving the tradition of the game is paramount.

“You’d probably have to drag me kicking and screaming,” Bettman said of ever agreeing to having advertising on sweaters, “which would take a lot, a lot, a lot of money.”

For those of you keeping score at home, that was three a lots. The NHL is a $4 billion enterprise these days, so you can only imagine what number it would take to get Bettman to break down and allow the Montreal Canadiens to sport advertising for Chez Paree on their sweaters. It’s interesting that Bettman was forceful with his use of a lot, actually. The way the league sees it, why would it need to mess with tradition when it’s getting so much money from its partner in the first place?

One source with knowledge of the industry said the deal between adidas and the league is worth $200 million, with incentives and bonuses that could bump it up to $300 million. If the league were to hit the upper target, that would mean the deal would be worth almost $43 million per season. The league’s previous deal with Reebok was worth about $125 million over 12 years.

This deal is a lot, a lot, a lot better than that one. And if you’re adidas and you’re giving the NHL that much money, how would you feel about other companies putting their logos on your sweaters? Although the NHL reserves the right to place advertising on its sweaters, as it has for some time now according to Bettman, it’s not about to take advantage of the opportunity. In short, what the league is missing out on in not having advertising on its sweaters, it’s making in having such a huge deal with adidas.

And really, the NHL is selling advertising in this deal anyway. It’s really just selling it exclusively to adidas. With high definition television, it will be easier than ever to see the adidas logo on the sweaters, so the league can certainly promise to deliver more eyeballs than ever before. And adidas is paying for the right to be the only advertiser on sweaters. Reebok will remain on sweaters for this season before adidas takes over likely in 2016-17. The deal itself doesn’t kick in until 2017-18, but since Reebok is an adidas brand already, the transition will probably come a year early.

“We have the flexibility of working closely with adidas to figure out what represents the brand best,” NHL CEO John Collins said when asked whether adidas would occupy the same spot at Reebok, near the neckline of the sweater.

Bettman, in fact, suggested that he and the league are not willing to mess with sweaters for any reason. “If there are new things we can do to help performance, but in large measure protect and adhere to what we’ve developed over time historically and what our fans love, then we’ll try to integrate and incorporate that technology,” Bettman said. “But we’re not looking to revamp our jerseys.”

So there you have it. Sweaters will remain unsullied for the foreseeable future and the hockey world will not be turned on its ear by having advertising on them. And that’s a good thing if you happen to care about that sort of thing. Personally, your trusty correspondent is all for preserving the tradition and history, but has no problem with advertising on sweaters because it does nothing, absolutely nothing, to change the game or what happens on the ice. There’s already advertising on the boards on the ice and it seems during every stoppage in play.

Advertising is coming to sweaters some day. But that day won’t be coming any time soon. And with Bettman carrying the flag for the traditionalists on this one, there’s a good chance it won’t ever happen on Bettman’s watch…unless someone is willing to pony up a lot, a lot, a lot of money.

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Rest easily, NHL fans. Players won't look like this anytime soon