As important as the game itself is, there’s nothing quite like a hockey jersey. A team’s logo and its colors are intertwined with the raw emotions, memories and general pride for many fans of the sport. That’s what makes this jersey news rather big in the hockey world.
The NHL has struck a new long-term deal with apparel giant Adidas to produce the league’s jerseys beginning in 2017-18 according to Rick Westhead of TSN.ca. Adidas will be assuming the role of the NHL’s official jersey provider from Reebok, which has been making the league’s jerseys since 2007.
For Adidas, the NHL deal is a big, if curious, win. The company beat out rivals Under Armour and Bauer Hockey for the NHL jersey contract, three people familiar with the matter told TSN. The NHL’s deal with Reebok pays the league about $35 million per season, a source said. The new deal with Adidas will see the rights fee double, the source said.
Both the NHL and Adidas declined to comment. A source said the agreement would be formally announced in mid-September. It's unclear whether the NHL will receive a cut of revenue from jersey sales or if it's a straight rights-fee arrangement.
Adidas, which bought Reebok in 2012 for a reported $3.8 billion, recently ended its relationship with the NBA as its jersey manufacturer. Presumably the NHL was cheaper and kept the brand in a major North American professional sports league.
While details of the framing of this deal in terms of revenue generated and what this means for the future are scant, here are a few things to know about this reported deal.
Adidas doesn’t have much of a hockey history.
While it is not traditionally known as a hockey company, Adidas has been in the hockey business before. The company has been the official brand of several major NCAA programs. Among big-name schools that have utilized Adidas hockey jerseys before: Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Michigan.
In those cases, the company didn’t really materially change the jerseys. Notre Dame kept its classic script jerseys, Michigan’s ‘Block M’ was left alone and Wisconsin’s jerseys have pretty much been the same for decades. That's probably somewhat comforting to NHL fans, but not necessarily what should be expected for the NHL agreement.
Additionally, the company is reportedly in pursuit of a deal with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. According to TSN, Crosby's current contract with Reebok expires at the end of August. Landing one of the game's biggest stars should help get the Adidas brand out there more among hockey fans despite the limited history, assuming they strike a deal.
How will this new deal change the look of NHL jerseys?
This remains to be seen, but here’s more from TSN’s report.
A source told TSN that the deal would surely mean big changes to uniform designs, perhaps with Adidas’s familiar three-stripe trademark being added to some or all team jerseys.
Hmmm. This could make a few hockey fans nervous about the status of their favorite team's jersey.
Reebok’s “Edge” jerseys have been met with mixed reviews over the years. The technology had to be tweaked early on and some of the league’s redesigned jerseys in the 2007-08 season were pretty rough.
Remember all the vertical piping? There’s a reason many teams that used to have it don’t anymore. That said, Adidas does now have Reebok under its umbrella, so it will be interesting to see just how big the changes will be.
Traditionalists will say to leave the design of jerseys alone, but expecting many to remain completely untouched might be overly optimistic. Adidas has done a lot of experimenting in other sports, particularly among its football properties in the NCAA, and some of those designs might have hockey fans pulling their favorite jersey over their eyes.
One of the major testing grounds could be the World Cup of Hockey, though as Yahoo Sports reported, the jersey rights for that event have not been sold. Assuming the NHL goes with Adidas to handle the jerseys for the event which will take place in the fall of 2016, we might get an idea of what Adidas wants to do for their hockey jerseys. So perhaps we can reserve judgment until then.
But here’s another reason hockey fans’ ears will remain perked up and brows furrowed…
Could this change open the door to selling ads on NHL jerseys?
As Westhead noted in his piece on the deal for TSN, the new jersey setup could also open the door for the NHL to consider advertisements on its team uniforms. It’s something the league has reportedly discussed in the past and there may be a number of owners receptive to the revenue bump such an initiative could bring in.
If there’s one thing that will get traditionalist fans fired up, it’s this. Each team’s logo, particularly the older clubs, is one of those things fans wouldn’t stand for diminishing. There’s no guarantee anything like that will happen yet.
Last January, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in Vancouver that he was “in no rush” to put ads on jerseys and that it was an idea he would probably have to be brought to “kicking and screaming” before supporting it.
If the new uniform contract with Adidas opens that door again, it will be very interesting to see where the league goes considering how aggressive it has become in attempting to boost revenues. Just in the last year the league has made major business decisions like reformulating the World Cup of Hockey, opening up the expansion process and forging a digital media deal with MLB Advanced Media.
Anything is possible when there’s millions of dollars involved, but ads on jerseys remains a fairly delicate topic, even among those standing to gain from it.