Blues CEO Chris Zimmerman is a hockey purist who once played in a league with team owner Tom Stillman and worked with the Vancouver Canucks before coming to St. Louis in 2014. He’s aware Thursday’s announcement that the club will be wearing an advertisement on its jersey beginning in 2022-23 will be met with some unwelcome reaction.
However, Zimmerman’s job also has him intimately aware of the need for new revenue streams in professional sports, particularly in the wake of a pandemic, and he knows the Blues must consider all of their options to remain competitive.
“We have an obligation to find ways to grow our business so that we can achieve our No. 1 objective, which is to invest in creating a Stanley Cup contender and to win another Cup,” Zimmerman told The Athletic. “We’re doing it to invest in the hockey team, to invest in our staff and organization, to invest in the facility, and ultimately the community as well. The motivation of business success enables us to create a better product on and off the ice.”
To that end, the Blues revealed on Thursday that “Stifel,” an investment bank and financial services company headquartered in St. Louis, will be featured on both the home and away jerseys. It’s a five-year agreement, and financial terms were not disclosed.
the NHL granted permission a year ago for jersey sponsorships. the Washington Capitals were the first club to announce a jersey sponsorship, with Caesars Sportsbook, last September. The Blues are the fifth team to announce a deal, following Columbus, Pittsburgh and Las Vegas.
Zimmerman’s belief is that all 32 teams will have jersey sponsorships.
“The league, as well as ownership across the league, voted to move forward with adding this as a new opportunity,” Zimmerman said. “Part of the context is, professional sports, all of us, suffered a lot financially over the last couple of years. Every league has been looking for new revenue opportunities, to help teams work through this and start to pay off additional debt that was taken on to weather the pandemic.”
Zimmerman said that advertising on NHL jerseys was likely always going to happen at some point but that financial losses during the pandemic might have accelerated the timeline.
“Yes, I do think it was going to happen,” he said. “We’ve always taken great pride in our sweaters, and in some ways the purity and the team brand. But at the same time, like everything else, the world continues to change.
“The jersey had been considered, discussed, some of that work had already started prior to the pandemic, but I do think it accelerated some of this timing a little bit. I do think we’ve been forced to find new ways to build new revenue sources.”
None of the four NHL teams who have previously announced their sponsorships have disclosed the financial details. Sean Shapiro, The Athletic’s NHL business reporter, has written that Washington’s deal is believed to be in the $5 million range annually, but that is only for an ad placement on the capitals‘home jerseys. The Capitals haven’t publicly announced an agreement with their road jerseys.
Somewhere between $5 million and $10 million for both jerseys is what most teams are expecting to receive.
“Well, some of it is driven by eyeballs,” Zimmerman said. “There are outside marketing firms that can evaluate the number of times that a brand will get exposure. Matter of fact, studies have been done on the positioning of a brand. So, in that sense, some of that becomes fairly formulaic.
“One of the wonderful things about being on the sweater is the fact that that is a timeless exposure. So there’s the ‘live’ moment, and then there’s every other exposure of certain shots — both video and still — that happen on social media and in all the many, many different uses that our brand.”
Clubs were given the option of placing the sponsorship on the right chest of the jersey or the shoulder. The positioning and the size of the ad will be standard across the league.
In the case of the Blues, with Stifel, it will be located on the chest.
“It’s an important decision because it’s our uniform,” Zimmerman said. “It was important to us to work with our partner and have the Stifel branding really feel integrated into the sweater, to feel that it’s essentially part of our brand, which it now is. That will be really evident.”
The Blues’ relationship with Stifel dates back 20 years and includes the naming of Stifel Theater in 2018 and having a sticker with Stifel’s name placed on players’ home helmets the past two seasons.
Stifel will not appear on Blues’ helmets next season following the agreement to put the ad placement on the jersey.
“I think the impact and feedback they got (from the helmet sticker) created a level of confidence and helped them determine that this was an important and good investment for them,” Zimmerman said. “With Stifel’s 132 years in downtown St. Louis, they’re a company that’s committed to our market and helping to strengthen St. Louis.
“So they see this as a good business investment, but also as an investment in St. Louis. They’re a local business, but they’re also a global brand, and that’s an important element of this as well. We are helping carry the Stifel name, not just in St. Louis, but around the world with our games and where coverage of our team is carried.”
In addition to appearing on the jerseys worn by Blues players, the Stifel logo will be featured on authentic fan jerseys. Not all Blues fans, particularly the purists, will like it, and Zimmerman gets that.
“I understand the objection,” he said. “I guess my No. 1 thing is, I don’t know a fan that doesn’t want us to be competitive and want us to have the ability to get to the promised land again and bring another Stanley Cup to St. Louis. I would emphasize that this is part of, if you will, the critical toolbox that enables us, first and foremost, to invest in our team and compete against every size market, big and small.”
Some of the backlash, however, will undoubtedly be, “Where does it stop?” If the league is putting one sponsor on the jersey next year, how many will there be in five years?
“I don’t see the National Hockey League racing to add additional sponsors or logos,” Zimmerman said. “This is a massive decision and one that didn’t come easily. I’m always reluctant to imagine that I have the crystal ball to project what the future is, but I certainly don’t see a significant change coming soon based on this.
“Listen, ultimately, we want to keep our business growing. It allows us to invest in all the things that can make Blues hockey as important as possible. So yeah, in the world of media, there will continue to be new ways for us to build value for sponsors. We need to continue to compete and innovate, and I do think people should expect that that is part of today’s sports world.”
(Top photo courtesy of the St. Louis Blues)