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16 Sep 11,, 14:48
Kelly: The Leafs on slippery slope of jersey sponsorship - thestar.com (http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/nhl/mapleleafs/article/1054876--kelly-the-leafs-on-slippery-slope-of-jersey-sponsorship?bn=1)

Kelly: The Leafs on slippery slope of jersey sponsorship

The Leafs get a new practice jersey with corporate branding (Purolator).

By Cathal Kelly

Toronto Maple LeafsĽ
The Toronto Maple Leafs have taken a first small step over the economic edge and begun making their way down the slippery slope toward European-style shirt sponsorship.

This morning, the Leafs will debut a credit-card sized patch on the chest of the teamís practice jersey advertising the Purolator brand. Itís one element of a larger sponsorship deal that has the Canadian shipping giant paying the club an amount in the low seven figures, according to MLSE sources.

The Leafs become the sixth NHL franchise to take advantage of the leagueís new (and in certain U.S. markets, desperate) search for additional revenue streams.

At this point, itís an experiment contained to morning skates and the off-season.

But this is where it starts - on a practice jersey even the die-hards donít give a damn about. This road leads, of course, to the sacramental cloth the players wear on game days.

Shirt sponsorship in the modern, splashed-in-big-letters-across-the-front sense started in Germanyís Bundesliga in the early 70s. It was deeply unpopular. Within a decade, everyone was doing it.

For the biggest soccer clubs in Europe, it is a colossal source of revenue. Manchester City recently signed a 10-year, $625 million sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways, the major component of which is their shirt-front billboard.

Nearly every sports league in the world has sold off its uniforms. Except here.

North America is an island in the larger world of professional sports, actually and ideologically. We are new countries with old traditions. The uniform colours donít change year to year. The logos donít ever really change. The symbols mean something.

This is the dangerous ground the NHL must now contemplate crossing while balancing several clubs in dangerous financial decline in one hand, and tradition in the other.

History has generally shown that, in that fight, money wins.

Any sort of switch that smells of commerce will be welcomed like a skunk at a garden party. Europeans (and eventually, everybody else) got used to it, but their transition was relatively simpler.

In Europe, there is little tradition of splashing a team logo across the front of a jersey. Most teams feature a small badge over the heart. That left a lot of unused real estate to play with.

In order to reap maximum financial advantage, NHL teams would have to make room by getting rid of their team logos.

Nobody in Raleigh is going to kick too hard if the stylized hurricane is bumped. Just try replacing the winged tire on Detroitís jersey with a Chrysler logo. In the current climate, itís impossible.

But, letís say the NHL left this up to clubs to decide. And letís imagine that a few of the fringe or nearly bankrupt outfits decided to try it out. As soon as the predictable backlash petered off, how long would the Original Six hold out?

How much would it cost, say, a Bell or a Rogers or a TD Bank, to convince Toronto to remove the maple leaf from the jersey front?

ďThat would be blasphemous,Ē MLSE VP Tom Anselmi said yesterday, when the idea was put to him.

So youíd rule it out categorically?

Anselmi is that rare sort who thinks about questions before he answers them. He thought for a long while.

ďYes,Ē he said finally. ďAs long as Iím here.Ē

He wonít be there forever.

They donít step on the lot Ďless they wanna buy. Thatís the car salesmanís creed. It works the other way around, too Ė you donít open up this can of worms unless youíre willing to sell.

This will happen. As long as thereís a serious buck to be made, business logos will migrate from practice jerseys to game uniforms. Itís going to happen because too many clubs in the NHL need the money to survive.

The maple leaf will never disappear from the Toronto jersey. But whoíd bet it will always be front and centre if shrinking it or pushing it off to the side earns the club half a yearís worth of ticket revenue?

When and if the NHLís most famous symbols begin to fade in the capitalist clutter, the purists will wonder if anything is sacred any more.

The slow creep of commerce across the ocean and into North American sportís holiest of holies suggests that nothing ever was.

Albany Rifles
16 Sep 11,, 15:45
Maybe its the only way the Leafs can win anything!

16 Sep 11,, 17:01
***speaks softly in barely a whisper for a Texan*** GO STARS!!!!!!!!!