The Montreal Canadiens' jersey has long been considered a sacred garment by hockey fans. It's the symbol of the NHL's most storied franchise. It even inspired a children's book called, appropriately, "The Hockey Sweater."
But when the Canadiens introduced new team captain Nick Suzuki last week, fans of the "bleu blanc et rouge" let out a collective "Sacre bleu!" when they spotted a new addition to the jersey: an advertisement patch for RBC Bank on the right shoulder.
For many fans, that was the moment when reality hit: Ads on NHL jerseys are here, and the hockey sweater will never be the same.
Immediately, fans started speculating about how long it would take for a second advertisement to be added and then more beyond that. Images of NASCAR jumpers and European hockey jerseys that look like billboards on skates were shared on social media to exemplify the concern.
"I can't even tell you that I heard of [those concerns] before this week," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN, adding that "there's been no discussion or consideration about expanding the patch program" within the NHL.
The NHL has been sliding toward jersey ads for over a decade. It first allowed ads on practice jerseys in 2010. Meanwhile, the AHL, ECHL, NWHL and European pro leagues had made jersey sponsorship commonplace.
The NHL and NHLPA placed ads on their 2016 World Cup of Hockey jerseys, leading to speculation that new official outfitter Adidas would usher in ads on NHL team jerseys.
Although that door cracked open, commissioner Gary Bettman said at the time that the NHL "certainly won't be the first" of the big four North American sports to allow ads on regular-season or playoff game jerseys.
"You'd have to drag me kicking and screaming," he said, before acknowledging, "we know what our exposure is worth. Can somebody go through that math and come up with a number? The answer is yes."
It was the NBA that helped fill in the equation. In 2017, the NBA announced it would allow 2.5-by-2.5-inch ad patches on its game jerseys for the 2017-18 season. The program was a success, generating over $150 million in additional revenue and attracting new advertisers to the association.
In August 2021, the NHL board of governors approved jersey advertising beginning in the 2022-23 regular season.
One ad patch. Nothing more. For now.
Keith Wachtel, NHL chief business officer and executive vice president of global partnerships, said that if you asked Bettman, he would say it will not expand beyond one ad.