In September 2015, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league was "not currently considering putting advertising on NHL jerseys." But it's likely only a matter of time.

An NHL promo for the 2015 Stanley Cup final is a reverential tribute to the storied names that have appeared on the backs of jerseys over the ages, like Gretzky, Orr and Crosby.

But how long before such names share their jerseys with corporate names such as Scotiabank, Molson and Ford? After all, the Adidas logo is already there. 

CFL jerseys are already plastered with names like Sun Life, Nissan and Rona.

Of course, the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB are not as desperate for revenue as the CFL. Fans might see the big four leagues as greedy if they started selling jersey sponsorship on top of the billions they already earn in broadcast and licensing revenue.

In 2011, New York-based Horizon Media estimated jersey sponsorship could earn the leagues an additional $370 million per year. Little wonder, then, that the NBA predicts ads on jerseys are inevitable in the next five years.

But it's not like the concept is new. In Europe, sponsored soccer jerseys date back to the 1950s.

By the 1970s, teams in the United Kingdom and on the continent relied on the revenue. In this 2014 ad, Manchester United fans peel off the jerseys of former sponsors to reveal Chevrolet as the team's shirt sponsor for the next seven years.

That deal cost Chevrolet £53 million per year. Together, the 20 English Premier League teams currently earn about £220 million per year solely from jersey sponsorship.

One of the barriers standing in the way of North American leagues following suit is conflicts between player and team sponsorships.

In 2007, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning signed a sponsorship deal with Citizen, which included this ad.

Then in 2009, the Giants signed a deal with Timex which included, among other things, putting the Timex logo on practice jerseys.

Eventually, a face-saving solution was reached in which Manning removed his jersey for pre- and post-practice interviews.

There's little doubt that North American sport franchises would like to see revenue from the company names they could put on jerseys. And those companies equally covet all the lingering shots of their logos in close-ups and replays.

Therefore, watch for sponsored jerseys — coming soon to an arena or stadium near you. 


Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.