North American jerseys have always had commercial ties

The flag has been raised that ads could appear on team sweaters at the World Cup in Toronto, but it wouldn’t actually be anything new for North America. And the history behind commercial jerseys is actually pretty fun.

TSN reporter Rick Westhead had hockey Twitter all a-flutter yesterday, putting out
a nugget that the 2016 World Cup of Hockey could include advertisements on the national team sweaters, paving the way for the NHL to follow suit. Needless to say, the masses were not happy.

And I get it. Ads on jerseys are a European thing, right? It’s a slippery slope that starts with a Zepter logo on the players’ armbands and ends with a Skoda parked in the best seats in the house. Somewhere out there, a chill just went down Don Cherry’s back. But corporate tie-ins actually go way back in hockey’s North American history and one of the best examples involves a franchise and city that Cherry holds near and dear to his own heart. The AHL’s Hershey Bears have been a minor-league institution for more than 75 years, but the franchise was
originally named the B’ars back in 1932. Given that the Pennsylvania town is synonymous with Hershey chocolate bars and that they were co-created by sweets company founder Milton Hershey, the connection is hard to miss. When the B’ars won their first Eastern Amateur League title in 1936, folks got a little too squeamish about the corporate name however, and Hershey’s team
became the Bears. The jerseys were amazing, either way. In 1956, the AHL’s Buffalo Bisons were purchased by the Pastor brothers, who originally made their scratch by delivering soda in the Bronx. Eventually, that turned into a Pepsi bottling company in Buffalo and that had a, let’s say
heavy influence on the team’s
sweater. Even in modern times, there have been corporate tie-ins with teams. The Quebec League’s
Halifax Mooseheads were founded by
Moosehead Breweries and the logos of the two entities are practically the same. Over in the United States League, the Youngstown Phantoms are coming off their best season ever. Originally an NAHL team called the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, the franchise was founded by the owner of Phantom fireworks – and again, the
logo is
no accident. The auto industry and General Motors also inspired both the minor league Flint Generals and major junior’s Oshawa Generals. Maybe we’re OK with those teams because the uniforms still look like regular North American sweaters, as opposed to the community bulletin boards of Europe. I’ve always had a problem with the garbage bags worn by soccer teams (“We play for the name on the front of our shirt, not the back! And that name is…uh, Emirates Airlines. Or Samsung. Or, whatever it is this year”) and hey, maybe you see little difference between the two. But it will be interesting to see how and if the NHL tests its fans patience with actual ads on jerseys in the future.

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