We’ve heard plenty about the economic impact of the lockout on the players — the salary cap, hockey-related revenue, pensions. All of that can be a little mind-numbing. But there’s another factor at play for a few elite players: the effect of the lockout on their brand and their endorsements. There is obviously less demand for a guy like Steven Stamkos if he isn’t on the ice. While big-time players make the majority of their money from a few long-term deal deals, the possibility (which we almost experienced) of going a year and a half without any commercials and other sources of income isn’t something to overlook.
But what if you’re an international star like Alex Ovechkin, who spent the previous four months playing in the country where he’s arguably more popular than he is here? After all, Ovi’s appeal is limited in America. Hockey is by far the smallest of the major professional sports and athletes don’t generate much interest outside the cities they play in. In Russia, however, Ovechkin is a something of a national hero, not just a great player for the local team. There’s a case to be made, then, that Ovechkin could have actually made more money in his homeland than if he were in the NHL, both in salary and endorsements.
In an interview conducted late last week, before the Players Association and the owners reached an agreement to end the 113-day saga, Ovechkin’s agent dismissed that idea that the lockout could actually be positive for Ovechkin personally.
“I don’t know if I would characterize it as good in a situation that’s been very difficult for everybody,” David Abrutyn of IMG told RMNB. “He is obviously beloved in his home country and I think the reaction he’s getting there reflects the feelings that they have for him.”
And whether it’s in America or Russia, Abrutyn was insistent that Ovi doesn’t want to do anything that could interfere with his career.
“Alex has been very selective and we turn down an awful lot of things that come our way,” he said. “Most, if not all, of the things Alex does are done in the offseason even though they may appear during the course of the season. His focus is first and foremost on being the best he can be on the ice.”
Ovechkin may be focused on his play, but it doesn’t mean he won’t sign deals that change the way he looks on the ice. Most notably — at least visually — is Ovi’s contract with Gillette, which was first signed in 2010 and renewed for another two years last month. In addition to making Ovechkin the company’s ambassador in Russia, it precludes the Great Eight from sporting any unkempt facial hair. That was a big change for Ovechkin, whose disheveled look was one of his signature traits. The deal was also a bit of hockey sacrilege — what’s a hockey player without a playoff beard? Ovechkin was allowed to grow a sculpted goatee during the postseason, but a lot of fans want Ovechkin to bring the beard back. Some even blame the recent Caps playoff losses on his lack of scruffiness.
When pressed whether Ovi would be able to expand his facial hair options in the future, Abrutyn would only say this: “He’s got a variety of options that he can consider that are consistent with the traditions and heritage of the game and what is equally consistent with products that he supports in his partnership with Gillette.”
So there you go.