NHL, players union, alumni association team up for NFT deal

By Stephen Whyno

The NHL, NHL Players’ Association and NHL Alumni Association are teaming up to get hockey into the NFT marketplace.

The organizations announced a multiyear deal Thursday making Sweet their official digital collectibles partner. While not confirming exact terms, NHL executive VP of business development and innovation Dave Lehanski said the lucrative agreement is one of the biggest licensing deals in league history and Sweet CEO Tom Mizzone called it a “very favorable deal” for all parties.

“It became clear that we absolutely needed to have the Players’ Association and the Alumni Association on board so we could really speak to the entire history of the NHL — anything that has happened in the past, anything that’s happening today and anything that’s happening in the future — to create the best community and overall environment for our fans,” Lehanski said. “We really came together to work on this in force and create a true NHL experience and partnership.”

The partnership by the league, NHLPA and alumni is a rare sight but one that could help grow revenue moving forward, especially after pandemic-related losses kept the salary cap at $81.5 million for each of the past two seasons.

In addition to U.S. media rights deals with ESPN and Turner, as well as jersey advertisements coming next season to follow helmet decals that were introduced in 2021, it’s another positive step toward cap gains in future years once players finish paying back debt owed to owners to balance revenues 50/50.

“When you look at possibilities, it makes all the sense in the world,” said Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA special assistant to the executive director. “It’s a new space, it’s a new product and there are a lot of things that are going to be new to us and to the alumni and to the NHL that we’re going to have to work through, but I’m very confident that we’ll be able to do it.”

The agreement for non-fungible tokens — digital souvenirs that can be bought and sold like real-life memorabilia — has been in the works for more than a year. The opportunity to strike a deal with all three parties to assure video clips and other material available from over 100 years of NHL history made it even sweeter for Sweet.

“It was phenomenal that they brought the PA and the alumni in into one consolidated, coordinated program,” Mizzone said. “That’s the way you do it for the fans.”

Lehanski said this is part of the league’s efforts to drive fan engagement and that feedback pointed to this area. “Certainly, there was a lot of pressure and had been up until now for us to do something” amid other leagues capitalizing on the NFT craze, he said, adding the NHL wanted to make sure it crafted a plan that lasted.

NHL Alumni Association executive director Glenn Healy said, “This collaboration has been worth the wait.”