The NHL announced Tuesday that it has entered into a seven-year partnership with Adidas will become the authentic outfitter of on-ice uniforms for the NHL and supplier of licensed apparel and headwear. The deal will kick in beginning in the 2017-18 season.
Adidas will also be the official outfitter of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
When reports surfaced that the NHL would be signing on with Adidas, there were a lot of questions. The jersey has become such a part of the tradition of the game. The two biggest concerns were regarding if this opened the door to ads on jerseys and how, if at all, it would change the aesthetic look of the league's iconic uniforms.
In a lengthy teleconference with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL COO John Collins, NHLPA director Donald Fehr and Adidas North American president Mark King, some of those questions were answered – kind of. Hockey fans may have been put to ease at least a little bit by what was said, however.
Here’s a look at the three big takeaways from the announcement:
1. How will the jerseys look?
Considering that Adidas is now the parent company of Reebok, the NHL’s jersey supplier for the last 10 years, there might not be a ton of differences right away. Bettman was very quick to let fans know that the league understands how important the jersey has become within the fabric of the game.
“I think that everybody agrees that the history, tradition and respect that goes with NHL sweaters is something that we and Adidas are really respectful of,” Bettman said. “Reinventing isn’t something we’re about to embark upon. If there are better fabrics that help performance, then we’ll look at that. We happen to like our jerseys a lot and we think our fans do, too.”
King mentioned that Adidas is always exploring new technology and finding ways to improve performance, citing the company’s Techfit uniforms in football like those worn by the University of Miami or Arizona State, as a potential option for hockey one day.
“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, there’s potential one day for some experimentation, but look for the league to pump the brakes on anything that’s going to dramatically change the traditional look without good reason to do so.
One thing that hasn’t been discussed, however, is how Adidas branding will appear on the jerseys. It could be a small patch like that of the Reebok logo on the back of NHL jerseys now. Some have openly wondered if the three stripes often seen on Adidas-branded soccer kits could come to hockey, but what happens with that is still undecided.
“We didn’t specifically reference it in the deal,” Collins said of how the Adidas brand will be presented on the jerseys. “We have the flexibility to explore what represents the brand best and what represents the league. No decision has been made.”
2. Does this open the door for ads on jerseys?
With such a big change in how the league is outfitted and with how aggressive the team has gotten with exploring new revenue streams in recent years (multiple outdoor games, the World Cup, etc.), speculation ran wild that this would be the signal that ads are coming.
Bettman rejected that outright.
"There’s been speculation that this deal will inevitably lead to ads on jerseys,” Bettman said. “That is absolutely not true.”
The commissioner said that there haven’t even been informal discussions about the possibility.
“The fact of the matter is, we are not currently considering putting advertising on NHL jerseys," he said. "There have been no discussions formally or informally with anyone about doing that.”
He also noted that the respect to the history and tradition of the game was a big factor and that if a North American sports league ever puts ads on jerseys, the NHL would not be the first.
“I would have to be dragged kicking and screaming,” Bettman said echoing previous comments on the subject. “It would take a lot, a lot of money to do.”
3. 2016 World Cup could be first glimpse of Adidas’ vision for the jerseys
Since the new deal with Adidas doesn’t kick in until 2017-18, NHL fans will get a good idea of what to expect from the company when the World Cup rolls around. Expect this to be the testing ground for a lot of different things, even ads possibly.
“[The World Cup] gives us an opportunity for experimentation, if we want to, for different things,” said Fehr. “From the players’ standpoint, my obligation is to explore all avenues.”
Bettman said that talks have been held about placing ads on the jerseys for the various teams competing in the World Cup, but nothing is imminent.
“The World Cup of Hockey is a big opportunity for us,” King said. “We’re really, really excited.”
Might we see the Techfit jerseys or something else? Will we find out how Adidas wants to attach its brand to the jerseys? A lot of different options could crop up, but if there was ever a time to throw something at the wall, a World Cup that features two mixed all-star teams is probably the place to do it.