During the summer the NHL decided to introduce a dress code for players on the ice. No longer are they allowed to tuck in their jersey while on the ice. As stated by the NHL, “Players are not permitted to tuck their jersey into their pants in such a manner where the top padding of the pant and/or additional body protection (affixed to the pant or affixed to the Player’s body) is exposed outside the jersey. The back uniform number must not be covered or obstructed in any fashion by protruding pads or other protective padding.” If this is caught, the referees are told to give that player a 2 minute minor penalty for “Delay of Game”.
This seems like an odd rule for the NHL. Tucking in their jersey is something that has gone on for many years, by great players. In fact, the most celebrated hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, was famous for doing exactly that. So much so to the point where when Reebok became the official clothing supplier for the NHL, they put their logo on the other side of his jerseys just to accommodate him. Other players famous for always tucking in their jerseys are Owen Nolan, and Alexander Ovechkin.
So why is the NHL ruling against it now?
My theory is that this is the first step towards having sponsorship on the players uniforms themselves. A concern for the NHL is that by tucking in the jerseys, it would be harder to see what’s actually on it. Right now that would be the team logo or the number of the player. For spectators, that is a slight issue just to be able to follow the game, again it is something that has been done for years. However, sponsors can use that as an excuse to get lower prices for that type of sales, which in the end costs each of the 30 teams money.
Sponsorship on jerseys is nothing new in sport, but fairly new in North American sport. Most soccer teams have their title sponsor more prominent on their jersey then the team name themselves (see Manchester United). In North America, teams have done their best to avoid this at all costs, but with the globalization of the every sport, it seems inevitable. Already in the AHL, the affiliate league of the NHL, there are small logos on the back of their jerseys. So they are slowly moving in that direction.
The question is, how will the fans react to this? When the NHL first decided to put logos on the rinkboards, there was a massive negative reaction by fans and media alike. However, it is expected now in this day and age and is odd if it doesn’t exist. This will likely be the same for sponsorship on jerseys.
Another question will be how this affects jersey sales. Will fans be willing to buy jerseys with corporate logos on it other than the team itself. The NHL will likely have to be careful about how prominent the logos are on fan bought jerseys as team logos are one of the most hotly debated topics once changed.
Time will tell how this works out in the end and likely time will get us used to this.