The Boston Bruins jersey is “sacred ground” to Cam Neely.
So even though the National Hockey League will allow teams to sell advertising space on jerseys beginning next season, the Bruins are willing to wait until they find a corporate partner that rises to the occasion.
“I want to stress that if it’s not the right fit, we’ll hold off until we find the right fit,” said Neely, the Bruins president. “Being a former player that wore the jersey and being proud to wear an Original Six franchise jersey, that’s why for me it really has to be the right partner — it’s not necessarily who’s writing the biggest check.”
The Bruins are working with an outside agency, Excel, to winnow the list of suitors. The space for rent is a 3-by-3½-inch spot on the right or left chest, or the right or left shoulder top. The logo has to conform to the team’s current color scheme, and teams can sell to three different sponsors for the home, away, or third jersey, or just one sponsor for all three.
The Bruins currently sport a TD Bank decal on their helmets, an ad space approved by the league at the start of the 2021-22 season.
Since July 2016, the Bruins practice jerseys have sported corporate patches on the chest from the China-based ORG Packaging and the team’s jersey maker, currently Adidas.
“We’re very involved in the community, not just with the players, but also the organization,” said Neely. “So we want a company that’s ingrained in the community as well, so that we can probably work off each other and find other ways that we can get involved in various communities across New England.”
The patchwork quilt of companies whose ads adorn soccer jerseys in Europe is a familiar sight, while in North America, the closest comparisons are the NASCAR and IndyCar setups, with most available space on jackets and cars emblazoned with an array of logos.
Outside of jersey-maker logos such as Nike and Adidas — an Adidas patch can be found on the neck of every NHL jersey — uniform patches among the big four pro sports leagues in North America represent relatively new turf.
The NBA has allowed a small patch on the left chest since the 2017-18 season in a deal believed to be worth more than $200 million annually combined, according to Boardroom. The Excel agency the Bruins are using also worked with the Celtics for their uniform patch sponsor, Vistaprint, in a deal valued by CNBC to be worth $10 million-$15 million a year.
Major League Baseball will unveil its uniform advertising in the 2023 season, with 4-by-4-inch patches placed on sleeves, a revenue play that may exceed $250 million combined annually for the 30 teams, according to Van Wagner Sports. Advertising decals on helmets may appear as soon as this postseason.
A bit like it did with sports betting, when it waited until other leagues established partnerships, the NFL is still on the sidelines with patch plans. Revenue from any NFL uniform advertising deal can be expected to exceed those of the other three big North American sports leagues.
Exactly what kind of revenue a patch deal can bring to an NHL team is open to debate.
Keith Wachtel, chief business officer of the NHL, said the league believes the patches will be “extremely lucrative across the 32 clubs,” in excess of $100 million a year.
According to FanAI Inc., a platform that helps sponsors optimize their investments, that estimate may be high.
Adam Holt, FanAI senior vice president of sales, estimated that the average worth of a patch deal to a team will range from the high six digits to low single-digit millions. Original Six teams should fare better, said Holt.
Part of the challenge the NHL faces, Holt said, is that in most cities, especially in the United States, the team is usually not the No. 1 team in the market. Another factor is placement.
“Just from the nature of the sport itself, it’s going to be a little bit more challenging because the actual visibility of a jersey patch is going to be very, very limited,” said Holt, “especially if it’s on the front, just because it’s the nature of players to be hunched over while they’re playing hockey, unlike the NFL, MLB, NBA, etc.”
Wachtel said he’s more than comfortable with the NHL’s potential.
“I’d rather have the pace of play that the NHL has than some of the other sports,” said Wachtel. “I’m not concerned about a competition with [other pro sports]. Hockey is a great sport. We have a tremendous fan base.”