When it was announced in September 2015 that adidas would take over as the supplier of the National Hockey League’s jerseys — plus apparel and headwear — the questions were immediate.
Would the world’s No. 2 sports apparel company radically transform the on-ice look of NHL players? Would this pave the way for ads on NHL jerseys? Would the ubiquitous three adidas stripes adorn everything from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ beaks to the L.A. Kings’ crowns?
With June’s rollout of the adidas’ first hockey sweaters, debuting in the NHL’s centennial 2017-18 season, the answers are evident: No. No. And no.
Thirty existing teams and the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights got jerseys respectful of hockey’s traditions. Yet just because most of the jerseys were merely tweaked doesn’t make this a small deal.
Stepping Up in Class
In a way, the NHL’s partnership with adidas is a simple matter of climbing the corporate ladder.
Adidas owns Reebok, which for 10 years through the 2016-17 season was the official supplier of NHL jerseys. Partnering with an iconic company with a global reach has value for the NHL, and a higher profile in North America helps adidas.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, when the deal was announced, dismissed the widely speculated notion that the league was pondering placing ads on its new jerseys, as is done in soccer leagues across the globe. To date, 12 NBA teams have announced ad patches on their 2017-18 jerseys.
“It’s not an active discussion among NHL clubs,” Bettman told reporters at last season’s all-star game. “The fact of the matter is we take great pride in our sweaters, we think they’re the best in all of sports and that’s not something we’re running off to do. I always said we wouldn’t be first, OK great the NBA’s doing it.
“It would take an unusual circumstance, which I would define as a lot of money that I’m having trouble comprehending right now, for us to even be thinking about it. We think what we have is special, we talk about history and tradition and how special hockey jerseys are. We’re not looking to put advertising on our sweaters.”
Adidas, however is looking to close the sales gap on Nike — eventually. After slipping to No. 3 in U.S. sales behind Under Armour in 2015, adidas regained the No. 2 spot behind Nike in 2016.
A seven-year deal, reportedly at twice the previous annual rights fee, demonstrates adidas is taking a deliberate approach to improving its market share. The new jerseys — just home and away, no alternates — display similar willingness to take it slow.
Haute on Ice
There won’t be any dramatic departures from hockey’s traditional looks. NHL sweaters are exactly that — roomy, comfortable togs that slide easily over other accoutrements.
Adidas did boast that the ADIZERO fabric used for the jerseys is lighter, cooler and stronger than previous materials. Also, it’s worth noting that, during a teleconference on the day the deal was announced, adidas North American President Mark King mentioned his company’s interest in material innovation.
Adidas has outfitted college football teams (the University of Miami and Arizona State among them) in Techfit jerseys, which claim increased durability, abrasion resistance and range of motion, plus a compression-fit “bodymap” silhouette that makes it difficult for opponents to grab.
“That would be the logical place to go, but it completely changes the look of the hockey player,” King said of the Techfit uniforms. “I think [the aesthetics] would be led by the NHL and not by us.”
So far, that’s abundantly clear.
A trip to your favorite hockey store will reveal subtle revisions to most teams’ looks.
However, there are a few hits and a few misses among the redesigns.
- Vegas. The Golden Knights got a look far more subtle than their town. Silver, black and gold are the dominant colors with a single red stripe below each elbow. Hit.
- Nashville. The Predators get rewarded for a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals with a night shirt. Miss.
- Buffalo. The Sabres get a refreshed look that cleans up some of Reebok’s piping misfires. Classic and cool. Hit.
- Edmonton. The Oilers take orange and make it as cool as it has been at any point since the Broad Street Bullies ruled Philadelphia and the NHL. Hit.
- Minnesota. Wild gets domesticated with a coverup that might best go with flannel pajama pants. Miss.
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Specialist for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. Lee picked up his first hockey stick at age 3 and has yet to put it down. He went on to play hockey at the college level for Illinois State University while earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing.