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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Fanatics’ New NHL Jerseys Emphasize Player Input and Tradition

  • The new set of NHL jerseys carries relatively minimal levels of change compared to prior designs.
  • The sports merchandising giant has certainly learned lessons from the MLB uniform debacle.

Fanatics isn’t the primary entity in MLB’s much-derided and later-corrected uniform redesign. But the sports merchandising giant is still taking a very different approach for the release of its new NHL jerseys. 

The company is taking over as the NHL’s official uniform supplier in a 10-year deal signed last year, succeeding Adidas. And unlike the large-scale shifts that defined this year’s Nike-led overhaul of MLB’s uniforms, Fanatics’ initial approach to the hockey effort is defined by minimal change and maximum levels of input from key constituencies. 

New uniforms released Wednesday featured a few notable alterations, including an additional fabric on the lower sleeves to enhance durability, a removal of the dimples that Adidas had placed in the shoulder panels, and a new hologram finish to the NHL shield on the front neck of the jerseys.

But overall, continuity was critical in the NHL project, including the retention of Quebec-based SP Apparel as a manufacturing partner, a role that company has played with multiple league uniform licensees over nearly 50 years. Those moves were made against the backdrop of established hockey culture in which there is arguably no deeper connection between fans and team uniforms than in this sport. 

“NHL uniforms are considered by many to be the best in sports, and the history, tradition and respect that goes with our NHL sweaters is paramount to both the NHL and Fanatics,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Fanatics listened to our players and Clubs, and preserved the quality, performance and design of our uniforms.”

That sentiment contrasts sharply against comments that Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin made earlier this year about the MLB uniforms. Fanatics is playing a different role there—acting as the manufacturing partner and executing Nike’s design. But at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference back in March, Rubin said, “We’re doing everything as we’ve been told, and we’re getting the s*** kicked out of us. So that’s not fun. [The] biggest thing I probably learned is if we’re involved in something, we need to make sure that everybody better be on board. … They got certain players on board, not all players on board.”

Listening Tour

With all that in mind, Rubin and Fanatics made certain that all 32 NHL teams were involved in the uniform effort, as well as the NHL Players’ Association and individual players. So far, that appears to have paid off, not only in the relatively minor levels of change in the uniforms but also the lack of public pushback from the players or the union.

“From very early in this process, Fanatics has kept their commitment to partnering with the players in the transition to the new on-ice jersey,” said Marty Walsh, NHLPA executive director. 

The new NHL jerseys will be worn by prospects selected at the league’s two-day draft in Las Vegas at the Sphere that begins Friday night. Additionally, fans will be able to buy the authentic on-ice jerseys worn by players, something that Reebok discontinued a decade ago and wasn’t revived by Adidas. 

The new Fanatics jerseys are also another part of what’s been a big week for the NHL between banner television ratings for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and the end of a landmark season across multiple metrics.

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