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Rick Westhead

TSN Senior Correspondent

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The National Hockey League and NHL Players’ Association have kick started negotiations with at least four apparel companies who are interested in becoming the jersey suppliers for next year’s World Cup of Hockey.

While the NHL has a deal in place with Reebok, that contract does not cover an independent tournament such as the World Cup. Meetings between the NHL and apparel companies are taking place this week, a source familiar with the matter told TSN.

Reebok, Nike, Bauer and Under Armour are all interested in securing the contract for the 17-day tournament, which should fetch the league and union more than $6 million, the source said.

Under Armour, considered a relative newcomer to the hockey business, is especially interested in making a mark in the soft goods hockey market, the person said. Under Armour has already signed NHL players including Zach Parise, Rick Nash, Carey Price and Sam Benett to endorsement contracts to help build the company’s profile.

“One issue is that it’s coming weeks after the Rio Olympics and with the merchandising, you’re basically asking people to ramp up their patriotism again and shell out for more national team apparel and jerseys,” the source said.

The World Cup will also be used by the NHL to gauge which company they want to do business with in coming years.

The NHL’s deal with Reebok is set to expire in a year as well.

Several NHL sponsors told TSN in January that they expect the league to use the World Cup of Hockey to trial on-uniform advertising.

Every North American sports league has weighed the added revenue putting ads on uniforms would generate against fan backlash.

The NHL has contemplated ads on uniforms for years. 

In 2008, a group of influential NHL players that included New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, Dallas's Marty Turco, Detroit's Dominik Hasek and Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson urged the NHL to alter league uniforms, perhaps starting first with goalie jerseys.

In September, NHL officials told team presidents that the league would prefer not to be the first major league in North America to feature on-uniform ads, even though the move might generate $120 million.

But more recently, in the wake of the NHL's announcement of the eight-team World Cup of Hockey, sponsors say they expect the league and NHLPA to be aggressive with its marketing efforts. NHL officials have said privately that they hope the tournament generates close to $100 million.

The league has sold the World Cup’s Canadian TV rights to Rogers Communications for about $30 million, NHL sources told TSN, adding that the U.S. rights that were sold to ESPN went for less than half that much.

The NHL has informed sponsors that it will feature about eight categories of sponsorships for the World Cup, selling each for about $1.5 million. To have a corporate logo featured on a team jersey would probably cost about $2 million per team, sources tell TSN.

Buying the jersey rights to all eight teams would probably cost about $6 million.

Companies such as Honda, McDonald's and Pepsi who sell in global markets might probably make the most sense for such a partnership.

In professional leagues throughout Europe, player uniforms are covered in ads. When former Leafs star Doug Gilmour played in Switzerland during the 1994-95 lockout, he was reportedly asked by his team to put advertising stickers on the shaft of his hockey stick. Once, when he skated out for a pre-game warm-up, a team trainer asked him to adjust his socks to make a sponsor's logo more prominent.

The introduction of ads on arena rink boards in the late 1970s was a turning point for the NHL's ties to corporate North America. The Minnesota North Stars were the first franchise to debut rink board ads, selling eight pairs at $3,000 a pair.