Maybe it’s just me: Helmet Ads

As long as I’ve watched NHL games I only ever remember seeing advertising on the boards. I can say without a doubt that I’ve never paid that much attention to the ads on the boards but if they’re not there man do the boards stick out like a sore thumb. As we plow through the delay in starting the new season we’ve seen classic games shown on the tv and a lot of those games have boards without ads on them and to me they just don’t seem right. I imagine that when teams started selling ad space on their boards there were a lot of purists out there claiming this would be a travesty to the sport. That the selling out of board space to billionaire clients would be the beginning of the end. “Where does it end? Do we replace the names on the back with ads for beer companies?” Well we haven’t hit that point yet thankfully, but there’s a reason we have ads sold on the boards, those superstars we all love to see streaking up the wing and scoring goals don’t come cheap. Also paying to staff a team and a front office, doctors, trainers, buy equipment, pay for travel, hotel costs, etc doesn’t come cheap as well. So with costs rising in the 80s particularity in the salary department owners turned to selling the blank pristine boards to advertisers. As I said earlier I don’t remember watching any games without ads on the boards, but I’m sure the detractors of board advertising today would be happy to know the quality of play has only gotten better and hasn’t affected the on ice product.

On ice though is where the next stage of open space for advertising transitioned. Again the big anti money generating fans couldn’t wrap their heads around why these billionaire owners needed to sell ice space to other billionaires to advertise on! “We won’t be able to follow the puck! It takes away from the purity of the sport…….baaaaahhhhh humbug!” Again I point to the rising cost of employing a fully staffed team to put out on the ice. I’ve noticed the ice ad spots seem to be standard, Centre Ice circle. 4 in the neutral zone, and now 4 outside the trapezoids in each end zone below the goal line. Apparently having a sports team in the top league in the world isn’t cheap so we continue to see advertising put wherever owners can find the place to put them. This upcoming season sees the largest revenue generating source for each team not in the building. Yes that’s ticket holders, so the NHL has allowed owners to seek out companies that wish to advertise on the teams helmets. “Ok now this is going to far!” Our intrepid protectors of the purity of the game are saying. “We allow this on helmets then they’ll be pasting ads on the jerseys next, then the socks, and the pants, then the front of the jersey!” Ok. I get you all worry about the over abundance of advertising on the players as they skate around the ice. I’m here to say it won’t matter. You’ll still cheer for your favourite team just as passionately as you did any other season without ads all over the place. You’ll continue to watch the games on tv or at the rink and yell at the top of your lungs when your team scores. Not one of you will cheer less loudly because there’s more advertising out there because we cheer for our teams no matter the advertising on the front, back, shoulder, pants or anywhere else they get money from a company to advertise themselves.

Look no further than over the Atlantic. Football teams all have a major sponsor that pay a lot of money to be front and centre. Let’s take a look at the jersey of Man Utd. The current sponsor on their jersey is Chevrolet and they are paying the team a measly 64 million Great British Pounds for the 20/21 season alone. That’s about 110 million Canadian dollars, HELLO! Here’s the amount Chevrolet spent to sponsor the jersey each of the past 6 seasons since taking over as the premiere advertiser on Man Utd jersey.
19/20 64 Million GBP
18/19 47 Million GBP
17/18 47 Million GBP
16/17 47 Million GBP
15/16 47 Million GBP
14/15 47 Million GBP
(From: Statista)

Including this season that’s 363 million GBP to have the Chevy logo emblazoned across the front of the Man Utd jerseys! Wow! There is a search underway for next years sponsor as Chevy extended this year for this one season, I can only imagine what that sponsor will pay going forward. Note that the Chevy logo far outsizes the team shield, the team is more noted for the colours then the logo on the front. The change of sponsors also drives jersey sales as when a team changes sponsors every 4-6 years all the fans have the desire to get the newest kit. Millions of fans shell out money and buy the newest jersey, which is a great way to always keep the jerseys flying off the shelf. The same happens in my beloved sort of rugby, the teams have advertising on the jerseys, shorts, socks etc, all in the name of increasing revenue for the team and therefore the owner. Now hold your horses! You’ll say I’d never shell out for a New Jersey every 4 years! Right that’s why at every Oilers game I go to 90 percent of you are wearing the new silks! If we could go to games this season how many of you would be rocking the slick new white reverse retro’s. (There’s a reason each team has four jerseys this year, so you’d buy them to increase revenue)

I get it, we’d hate to see our little NHL league “sell out” but if we want to continue to see our little league first survive, then thrive, we have to accept adverts on helmets for now, and eventually elsewhere on our favourite teams uniforms. We shouldn’t forget that the owners of sports teams are businessmen and businesswomen that have other companies that make money for them and the sports team ownership is just their shiny toy. If the shiny toy loses its shine, well crazy things happen, like the sale of a really good player, or the relocation of a team, or it up and folds. All things none of us fans of the NHL or any sport would like to see happen. So we need to come to terms with more and more advertising on our favourite teams and players as the years move on so that the teams we love stay profitable. I’m not afraid to say that I’m perfectly fine with the direction the NHL is taking in the advertising department but maybe it’s just me?

Nels Nelson is an occasional guest on YEG Sports, he also is a playwright, podcaster, referee of hockey and Rugby, fan of a lot of sports, a proud husband and proud father. He also works tirelessly cleaning up the streets of YEG.

Breaking Down the 2021 Edmonton Oilers Schedule

EDMONTON, AB – FEBRUARY 06: Edmonton Oilers Center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his goal with line mates Edmonton Oilers Defenceman Darnell Nurse (25) and Edmonton Oilers Defenceman Ethan Bear (74) in the first period during the Edmonton Oilers game versus the San Jose Sharks on February 06, 2020, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, AB.(Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire)

Let’s do that hockey.

The Edmonton Oilers will kick off their 41st National Hockey League season on January 13th with a back-to-back against the division rival Vancouver Canucks. What follows is 56 total games in 115 days (approximately one game every other day) against Edmonton’s other division rivals, both traditional and otherwise.

With the closure of the Canada-United States border due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the NHL decided to re-align their four divisions so that as many teams as possible were able to play out of their home rinks. The Oilers will partake in the brand new North Division, where they will see the usual suspects – your Canucks and your Flames – but will also see plenty more of the other Canadian teams.

The Opponents

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, because the re-ignited (pun intended) Battle of Alberta between your beloved Oilers and the evil savages to the South will occur TEN TIMES this season. 18% of Oilers games in 2021 will be against Calgary. The highlight of this series is a pair of games on back-to-back nights in February with the latter scheduled for Saturday Hockey Night in Canada. Expect blood.

The Vancouver Canucks are the other team the Oilers will square off with ten times, starting with the back-to-back curtain raiser on January 13th and 14th in Edmonton. While Vancouver-Edmonton pales in comparison to the Battle of Alberta, the Canucks are still a rival, and these are two teams that will be right in the thick of the playoff race. Besides, any time you play a team ten times in less than six months, it will get heated. Expect blood.

As for the other four Canadian clubs, the Oilers will play each on a total of nine occasions each. Again, I don’t care what team you’re playing, if you play them this many times in a season, it will get out of hand quickly. Expect blood.

The Format

I really like the decision made by the NHL to construct the schedule the way they did. To explain what I mean by this, let’s take a look at the Oilers’ schedule in the month of March:

To start the month, the Oilers play the last two of a three game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home. Then Calgary makes the three hour drive north for a single game, followed by three against the Ottawa Senators. After two weeks at home, the Oilers take the short trip to Vancouver to play a single game. Then two in Calgary. Back home for two against the Winnipeg Jets. Then they travel east of Lloydminster for the first time in over a month. Three in Montreal, two in Toronto, and then it’s back home for the Oilers.

In a month, the Oilers play seventeen games, but they only get on a plane five times, and three of those trips can be completed in an hour and a half or less.

That’s the first reason I really like this schedule from the NHL. In the COVID Era, you want to limit travel as much as possible because it eases the strain on the players, and it reduces the risk of a potential outbreak. If a player in an Edmonton-Montreal game tests positive, it won’t affect the Ottawa-Winnipeg game because you’ve isolated the incident. We are less likely to see MLB-esque cancellations of games because of this schedule.

The second reason I really like the schedule is related to the first section of this article. It builds hate. Sure, the Oilers might not have any hard feelings towards the Canadiens now, but you can’t tell me that playing Corey Perry three times in a week doesn’t end with a spear job. Expect blood.

How Does it Affect the Oilers’ Chances?

I’m not going to get into the “Which Division is the Best” argument here, because I don’t want to waste your time. I just want to look at how the Oilers might fare playing Pacific Division teams vs. their new division opponents. (I’m using Regulation Win Percentage to measure the quality of each team. The reason boils down to the fact that overtime is essentially random.)

Regulation Win %, 2019-20

PacificRW%NorthRW%
ANA.282CGY.357
ARI.371MTL.268
CGY.357OTT.254
LAK.300TOR.400
SJS.314VAN.391
VAN.391WPG.423
VGK.423
TOTAL.348TOTAL.348
Statistics from NHL.com

There you go. The overall quality of teams that the Oilers are facing are exactly the same that they would face in the Pacific Division (obviously this is a very crude measure. It doesn’t take into account offseason additions or internal development). If these numbers seem low, the league high RW% last season was the Boston Bruins at .543.

You may be wondering what the Oilers sat at. By this metric, the Oilers were the best team in the Pacific last year, and the best of the Canadian teams. Their regulation win percentage was .437.

If they’re the best team, then should strength of opponent matter? Perhaps not. Still, I want to compare how well the Oilers play against these teams head-to-head over the last three seasons (for a larger sample size):

Edmonton Oilers Head-to-Head Regulation Win%, 2017-2020

PacificRW%NorthRW%
ANA.300CGY.385*
ARI.250MTL.833*
CGY.385*OTT.400*
LAK.583*TOR.167
SJS.167VAN.333
VAN.333WPG.111
VGK.364*
TOTAL.341TOTAL.353
Statistics from hockey-reference.com and Stathead

Asterisks indicate teams that the Oilers have played well against (RW% above .336, which is Edmonton’s RW% against all teams during that span).

Despite struggling against Toronto and Winnipeg, the Oilers are roughly as successful against the Canadian teams as they are against the Pacific teams. The difference is .984 regulation wins over an 82 game season (.672 over 56). This is to say that the Oilers were a good team last year, should be a better team this year, and that the schedule isn’t offering much to change that. In fact, you could say that the Oilers were granted a very slight advantage from the schedule.

Facts & Figures

While diving deep into the Oilers schedule, a few interesting tidbits presented themselves:

  1. The Oilers are scheduled to play 11 back-to-backs, tied with Ottawa for the most in the North Division, and second in the NHL only to San Jose (According to Travis Yost of TSN). They played eight in 2019-20.
  2. 12 Oilers games are scheduled on Saturdays, compared to 17 that were scheduled over 82 games last season. We won’t know how many will be part of Hockey Night in Canada until the game times are released, but one can only assume that a lot of games in the North Division will be nationally televised.
  3. With divisional playoffs in effect this season, we could see a maximum of SEVENTEEN Battles of Alberta if the two should meet in the first or second round.

The NHL has set the stage for what should be the most entertaining regular season of NHL hockey we have ever witnessed.

The NHL is Going to Play this Year

I know, I’m crazy.

With all the balls up in the air and the reluctance from both sides to negotiate, you might be wondering how I can be so confident that the National Hockey League is going to complete the 2020-21 season. Well, dear reader, let me elaborate.

While the NFL started their season on time because they’re the NFL and nothing was going to stop them, the NHL is operating from a position of desperation. The damage that could be done to the sport if they don’t play (read: financial losses), will be ten times worse than any damage done if they do play.

To put it simply, they can’t afford not to play.

So here it is, my list of reasons why I am confident the NHL will commence and complete some semblance of a season.

1. Gary wants to play

I know this sounds contrary to my previous article in defense of Gary Bettman, but recent history has shown that what Gary (really majority of NHL owners) wants, Gary gets. He has a knack for getting a vocal minority of owners on board with whatever the Board of Governors is pursuing. So when Gary says that all 31 teams are going to play, it means we are more than likely getting a season.

2. Legally, they have to play

The owners and players have already signed a legally binding agreement that prevents a labour stoppage until at least 2026. Check out this beauty of an excerpt from the Collective Bargaining Agreement:

Neither the League nor any Club shall engage in a lockout during the term of this
Agreement
.” – CBA between NHL and NHLPA, Article 7.1 (b)

Obviously the NHL was able to shut down back in March to protect the health of it’s players. But the current negotiations aren’t about health, they’re about money. This means that if the owners decided to call it a day and go home, they would be locking out the players – a clear violation of the agreement they extended, regardless of whether or not they read the details.

If the owners choose not to play, the Players’ Association has clear grounds for legal action against the league.

3. The TV Contracts

The NHL (based on incredibly rough estimation) makes about 10% of its revenue from its two national TV contracts with Sportsnet and NBC. This number gets magnified when the NHL has lost about half of its total revenue in the form of ticket sales. If the 2021 season doesn’t happen, the TV money will be in danger as well.

The NBC deal expires at the end of the 2021 season. A contract with the NHL looks like a good investment right now, but that’s only because hockey was played this summer. If the NHL isn’t present on televisions at all this winter, no TV executive in their right mind is going to want to hand the league a bag of cash.

I wouldn’t count on the Canadian deal being safe, either. The rumour is that Sportsnet was regretting their $5.2 billion deal before hockey disappeared from our screens. Imagine how they feel after the 61% decline in ratings for the Stanley Cup Final.

I’m not a legal professional, so I can’t speak to whether or not Sportsnet has a way to get out of that contract. What I do know is that if the upcoming season doesn’t happen, the NHL should expect a call from Sportsnet’s lawyers.

4. Future Ramifications

This leads into my final argument, easily the most significant. Let’s say we get the nightmare solution: No season, no new TV deal. All that growth they’ve seen in the U.S? hasta la vista. The NFL’s in full swing, the NBA has their plan in place, MLB got their season in, and soccer hasn’t missed a beat. Aside from Canada and a handful of northeastern American markets, the fans might not come back this time. They will spend that year watching sports that are on TV.

Not playing this season could mean the death of hockey as a major sport.

When the NBA was struggling in the late 70’s, the players and owners came to the negotiating table with one goal: forgoing short-term minor revenue increases for significant, long-term growth that ensured there would be a league in the future.

The NHL needs to change the way they think about money. Instead of screwing over your partner and taking a larger share of the current revenue, let’s focus on creating revenue and ensuring there is a league to profit from in 20 years.