With the NHL jerseys switching over to Adidas from Reebok there has already been controversy as Adidas will be removing the third jersey option for teams in the 2017-18 season. Fans everywhere have been disappointed by this decision, and hopefully this is a temporary situation while Adidas gets used to the production of NHL apparel. In terms of jersey variety, the NHL could learn a thing or two from the AHL and ECHL. One of my favorite business practices in minor league sports is the use of themed jerseys, it adds variety and additional entertainment throughout the year for fans. Additionally, themed jerseys can be used to benefit the community that plays host to the team. The Griffins and Walleye are two of many teams that implement themed jerseys, along with the rest of the AHL and ECHL.
Although the Toledo Walleye produce many more unique jerseys than the Griffins, Grand Rapids allows fans to participate in a unique tradition. The Griffins organization has made a practice of holding a jersey design contest to be worn at a home game, these designs are submitted by the fans. The winner of the competition is determined by a popular vote, and then the winning design is made into an alternate jersey for the team to wear. Contests such as this one are fantastic for a sports team and their fan base, allowing a unique kind of interaction that is often unavailable in the major sports scene. On the other hand, it takes a lot of man power and time to sift through designs and check for appropriateness, especially if the same contest would be attempted for a big market major sports team like the Red Wings. Personally I would still like to see this implemented to some degree, perhaps choosing from a selection of designs created by the organization or professional graphic designers. A more reliable way to introduce variety in a team’s look is the use of theme night jerseys, like across the ECHL.
Now I know what you are thinking, “Please don’t even think about bringing those Walleye Rocky jerseys to the NHL.” Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want to see the Wings wearing a jersey like that. However, the Walleye have introduced some of the best theme night jerseys in recent history. Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports seems to agree with me, as the editor of Puck Daddy recently released an article highlighting his top ten favorite hockey jerseys of 2016. Spoiler Alert: Toledo had jerseys come in at number 9 and 2. During the 2016-17 season Toledo continues to deliver with excellent theme jerseys, as they have had 16-Bit, Rocky, and City Celebration themed jerseys so far. More specialty jerseys will be appearing at the Huntington Center, as the “End of the World Weekend” sweaters for Feb 3rd and 4th were unveiled this week. Having so many fun and creative jerseys is a great way of spicing up hockey night for the fans of a team, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who can get slightly bored of the same thing every night all year. After all, look how well the various outdoor game jerseys sell in the NHL! They’re something different, and usually end up looking fantastic to boot, so fans flock to get a sweater of their own. Personally the Red Wings 2014 Winter Classic jersey may be my favorite NHL jersey of all time. The ECHL takes this idea and allows teams to use it as they may, and it can help increase jersey sales and drive up attendance to see the players in certain jerseys. A larger, and possibly more important consequence of themed jerseys, is the potential benefit they hold for the community.
NHL fans are very aware of Hockey Fights Cancer and Military Appreciation Night around the league, as each team has special warm up jerseys that are eventually auctioned off to support their various charities and foundations. Why can’t the NHL do this for entire games? You’re telling me a FULLY game worn Military Appreciation Night jersey worn by a player who scored the game winning goal, or got a hatty, isn’t going to pull in a lot of money for charity? Of course it would! And that’s exactly what the Toledo Walleye do with their game worn theme jerseys: auction them off to support jerseys. Remember those Rocky jerseys hockey fans absolutely shredded? A post-game auction for them raised almost $9,000 for the local Heroes in Action, International Boxing Club of Toledo, and the Walleye Wishing Well foundations. The 16-Bit jerseys were also auctioned off, with over $14,000 raised for the Walleye Wishing Well and the Toledo/Detroit chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Of that $14,000 raised, over $4,000 went to the MDA. The city appreciation jerseys were raffled off as well, and raised around $5,000 for charity. A jersey design can do more than support a charity though, it can begin healing and build unity for a community struck by tragedy. Remember the Florida Pulse Nightclub shooting in June of last year? The act of violence was absolutely vile, and rocked the Florida community to the core. The Orlando Solar Bears took a bold and loving step to help heal the wounds caused by the violence, by holding the Orlando United Night for their opening night of the 2016-17 season. Orlando had special jerseys for the game, highlighted by a rainbow heart behind the logo, rainbow trim, and the hashtag #ORLANDOUNITED. These jerseys were auctioned off after their game, and the proceeds went to the Central Florida Foundation’s Better Together Fund. The Better Together Fund helped provide support for the victims of the shooting and their families and the LGBT community, among other areas of the fund. I hold an immense amount of respect to the entire Solar Bear organization for having a night dedicated to helping the victims and their community, and I hope that minor and major sports teams alike follow their example.
Now I will be the first to admit I know next to nothing about the agreements and policies regarding marketing and branding for the NHL and it’s teams in terms of jerseys. I wouldn’t be surprised if the process of implementing new jerseys is bogged down by paperwork, approval, and legal processes between the teams and league front offices. Not to mention that the process of mass producing theme night jerseys would be a logistical nightmare, unless you restricted sales to a limited amount of jerseys, but then you are missing the point of a theme jersey. Theme jerseys add variety, style, and flare to a team’s look that can be left off their standard home/away uniform. So it would only make sense to allow fans to represent their team with that same sense of flare and pride, like with Stadium Series or Winter Classic sweaters. Obviously this isn’t going to happen anytime soon, as I mentioned the removal of the third jerseys for teams earlier. Hopefully Adidas returns the third jersey option soon, and maybe gives some further consideration to adding the occasional theme jersey for NHL teams to wear in game.
Orlando Solar Bears picture obtained from one of their Weekly Reports:
Walleye Pictures are my own.