LAS VEGAS – Canadian comedian Russell Peters motioned to the mannequin, the one that was wearing the new Vegas Golden Knights NHL jersey but was currently covered in a large white sheet.
“It looks like the bride at an ISIS wedding,” he said, eliciting a combination of scattered laughs and groans that had greeted most of his jokes at the Adidas NHL jersey unveiling. (It wasn’t exactly his audience.)
Russell Peters cracking jokes isn’t typical NHL. Later, Desiigner bounced around the stage spitting lyrics in a personalized Golden Knights jersey, and he wasn’t typical NHL. The entire Adidas jersey release for all 31 teams on Tuesday wasn’t typical NHL, and that’s exactly the point for the athletic gear maker.
“It’s not about doing something that is going to make people cringe. It’s about doing things that we do globally and helping hockey leverage that,” said Dan Near, the head of hockey for Adidas, at the Wynn casino’s Intrigue club jersey release party.
“I think even the most ardent skeptics are going to say that we have a really good balance between understanding hockey and what’s important to the players, and taking hockey to a place it’s never been,” he said. “It’s a fusion of sport and culture. You have to be carefully with that, because there’s a lot of history around these brands. But if what we can take something to an unexpected place, but also revere hockey, we want to continue to do that.”
From the start, revering the NHL’s storied jerseys presented some push-and-pull between Adidas and the League.
The World Cup of Hockey jerseys that Adidas created, for example, featuring a subtle integration of the company’s iconic three-stripe design on the sides of the jerseys. But while that design might show up for gimmick NHL jerseys – the Winter Classic or the All-Star Game, for example – they were nowhere to be found on the sweaters released this week.
“Branding is a larger discussion. It happens really top-to-top with our organization and theirs. It’s not a design decision but a contractual decision,” said Jeff Eagles, Design Director for Adidas.
The NHL basically said that its iconic jersey designs trumped any Adidas branding.
“That’s fine for the World Cup. But for our teams, like the Montreal Canadiens, that’s not going to happen,” said Brian Jennings, NHL Chief Brand Officer and executive vice president. “It’s not just the Original Six. It’s just not something that we’re going to do. The crest on the front of the jersey, in the hierarchy of brands, is No. 1.”
To that end, this wasn’t a radical redesign of the jerseys. It was a few tweaks here and there. For some sweaters, it was like one of those games in a children’s magazine where you’re presented with two images and you have to find the differences: ‘Hey, look, they got rid of the horizontal stripes on the Devils’ jersey … circle that with your No. 2 pencil.’
No, the plan for this first batch of jerseys for Adidas – who took over the NHL sweater making from Reebok starting next season – was to present streamlined looks and clean designs.
“Don’t ever-design it. In the past, we had some of those sweaters that are like, oof, I don’t know where you were looking,” said Jennings.
The process was a years-long one for Adidas. They worked with each team, and found that every experience was a singular one. (Including the Golden Knights, whose jersey story we’ll tell in a post tomorrow.)
“It depends on the team, in the organizational structure and the decision making. With some teams, it’s very clear, and the back and forth is minimal. In other cases, it can be quite a bit of discussion,” said Eagles. “It’s the uniqueness of the ownership and the leadership, and how involved they are. With some teams, the owner is micro involved, with specific opinions on things.”
The new sweaters have a few different aims. The first is always going to be performance, and Adidas noted that the players who wore their kits at the World Cup of Hockey raved about the lightweight fabric and fit of the jerseys.
The second aim is trying to ensure that each team’s design properly represents who they are and what they’re trying to convey.
So when Adidas streamlined the old designs – taking away the piping on some jerseys, for example – it was to accentuate other aspects of the jerseys, according to the designers.
“It wasn’t an attempt to get away from any team’s brand DNA. It was, in essence, what is the core of their visual DNA, and what is really extra window dressing,” said Eagles.
He said in the case of the New Jersey Devils, the design aspects to emphasize were the logo and “that signature black shoulder,” which is why the horizontal stripes were eliminated from the waist.
And then there’s the Nashville Predators jersey:
Without question, this was the most contentious design change for Adidas among fans on Tuesday. But Eagles said that it was a design alteration made in consultation with the team.
“Nashville is all about owning that color gold and making a statement about that,” he said. “That striping, the articulated stripe on the sleeve … that really was the DNA. The piano keys [on the collar]. The shoulder patch. The color gold. That’s what they’re all about. So accentuating and celebrating what they’re all about, and the other [old design] might dilute that a little bit.”
This is the first batch of Adidas jerseys. There will be more tweaks and adjustments made over the next several years. In 2018-19, there will be even more Adidas jerseys – Jennings said “24-26 teams” will have third jerseys in that season, some of them old designs and some brand new from Adidas.
But for now, the League and its jersey-maker are celebrating a long process reaching its conclusion, while monitoring the feedback from fans.
“It’s amusing. I’ve been in this industry a long time, and everything you do there are going to be lovers and haters,” said Eagles. “The good thing is that there is always passionate feedback.”
That there is.
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