Through an agreement with the French language website Sportsjuniors.com, whose focus is news from the LHJMQ (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), I’ve decided to translate and reprint this story by journalist Nataly St-Gelais. For the original article in French see http://www.sportsjuniors.com/?p=11339.
Since it was written, it has been confirmed by Cole Butterworth at the CHL head office that Robin Gusse will not be allowed to wear his Passau equipment for the rest of the season due to sponsorship rules. The CHL claims to adhere to the same policies as the NHL regarding equipment. However, it should be noted that three seasons ago, Boston Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas also wore “no-name” goalie pads made by Pete Smith, without ever being reprimanded or sanctioned.
Paul Szabo for Ingoalmag.com
Last week the Reebok company, operating through the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), sent a message to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (LHJMQ), informing them that one of its teams was using equipment that was not licenced; in effect, without brand logos.
Players in the Quebec Major Junior league in fact aren’t allowed to wear just any equipment they choose, even if said equipment has been made to measure for them. The CHL requires that players in their ranks wear only equipment from licenced manufacturers: Nike, Reebok, Bauer, CCM, Graf, Easton, Vaughn and absolutely nothing else. Since the Quebec Major Junior League is part of the CHL, all its teams must comply with this rule, no exceptions.
The big question, of course, is exactly what the rule really stipulates. Personally, I think it is strictly a matter of visibility and protectionism by multinational corporations who would never stand to have their image (i.e. brand name) relegated to second place by a Québecois company which produces equipment of equal quality.
Imagine for a minute if these companies lost their monopoly on the image and branding of the sport through the media, who by the way have no choice about which names they promote, since advertising control is firmly in the hands of these same multinational corporations who spend millions of dollars to ensure your kids buy only their branded equipment. Just to give one example, does anyone really believe that their son will be a better hockey player because he uses the same stick as Sidney Crosby or the same skates as Alexander Ovechkin…I highly doubt it, to say the least!
During a telephone interview with SportsJuniors.com, LHJMQ comunications director Karl Jahnke explained that the CHL operates in the same way as the NHL, only allowing the use of equipment under licence. The first reason is the issue of safety and the standardization of equipment norms. In other words, if I understand correctly, no logo = unsafe.
For the moment, I am awaiting a return call from a CHL communications representative, hopefully to get clarification on the subject…ditto regarding my attempts to obtain a reply from Reebok’s public relations department, where a message was left for Marc-André Charron.
Reached by telephone, Alain Beaudry of the Passau Hockey Company explains his dismay at having his equipment sales to major junior hockey players banned under the pretext that they are unsafe:
“ It’s clear that there are four companies that have exclusive privileges with the CHL for goalie equipment and there is noone else who can get a foot in the door, regardless of their profile or money. In my opinion, it is strictly a commercial and not a safety issue by any means. Even if they were obliged to say so, they still wouldn’t. They can invent whatever story they choose; I’ve been producing goalie equipment for the NHL, the AHL and the professional leagues in Europe for 28 years, yet for Major Junior hockey it’s a different story… for the last 18 years it’s been a closed shop for all but four companies: Reebok, Vaughn, TPS and Nike-Bauer. We’re good enough for the pros, but somehow not for the juniors”.
Having communicated himself with the CHL to discuss the dossier, Mr. Beaudry also has an opinion about the “security” issue. “Security my foot, there are a number of companies and maufacturers like Sher-Wood and Itech, who work with the NHL and yet who cannot gain access to the Major Junior Leagues. We ourselves are a designer and manufacturer who creates goalie equipment for certain NHL goalies.” Currently M. Beaudry is working to secure permission for Chicoutimi Sagueneens rookie goalie Robin Gusse to wear his custom made Passau equipment, which is at this point still “unapproved”.
“Once or twice a week I send pads to Toronto to have them approved for NHL players. This is the first time I have ever had to do this for a major junior player and in my estimation it probably won’t make any difference” M. Beaudry explained. Moreover, he stated that even if he wanted to buy a licence it would be impossible, since the league won’t hear of it. There are six licences and that’s all.
It’s easy to see that the CHL is the entry level to the NHL and if by nothing more than habit, players end up wearing equipment that is licenced and branded. After that, it becomes difficult to change and therefore all the more certain that this select group of companies will corner the NHL market.
It’s all a question of marketing and money. Imagine that some little guy, coming out of nowhere with his pads that have always been custom made, ended up making the major junior league, only to be told that must switch to a different brand that apparently will make him a better goalie!
SportsJuniors.com will follow this story in the context of its next broadcast of Hors-Glace (“Off-Ice”), at which time we hope to find some answers to our questions. In the meantime, be sure to have your licence, because the hockey police will be watching your next game…
Thanks to Alain Harvey, Editor-in-chief of sportsjuniors.com, for his participation