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Chicago Blackhawks: Adidas Jersey Contract Problematic

By Matt Barbato
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The manufacturing of NHL jerseys is switching hands and with the change could come a radical adjustment to the 30 NHL uniforms.

Adidas earned a long-term deal to begin making uniforms for the 30 NHL franchises starting with the 2017-18 season. Adidas, which beat out Under Armour and Bauer in the bidding war, will reportedly pay the NHL about $70 million per year for the rights to produce the uniforms. That fee is double what Reebok was paying the NHL previously, according to TSN’s Rick Westhead. An official announcement of the partnership will be made in September.

With adidas now producing jerseys, the NHL may choose to add a radical implementation to their sweaters. According to Westhead, the league is considering placing advertisements on the front and center of the jerseys. This, Westhead said, could raise $120 million annually for the league. This could also include the use of logos on the shoulder patches or atop of the logo near the shoulder. There have been no official uniform designs or plans incorporating advertisements released by either the NHL or adidas. The company’s trademark stripes could also find a way onto the uniforms.

Adidas recently ended its partnership with the NBA after producing the league’s jerseys for 11 years. The company claimed to be focusing on developing better products and sponsoring individual athletes until the opportunity with the NHL came around. Perhaps corporate sponsor involvement would mean more profit for adidas, which is why it decided to work with a different league. The company is industrially viewed as second fiddle to Nike.

“If you’re already deciding on a major NHL jersey overhaul, maybe with adidas striping on the jerseys, then it seems like it would be a good time to introduce the ads, if you plan to do it anyway,” a league source told TSN in the article.

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Advertising on jerseys is something that has never been done by any of the big four American sports leagues. This concept is the norm in European soccer, in which enormous clubs like Barcelona sport the Qatar Airlines logo on the middle of the jersey while the club’s logo is placed near the left shoulder. Or look at English Premier club Chelsea, which sports a bold Samsung logo on the front of its alternate jerseys.

July 21, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Barcelona defender Gerard Pique (3) controls the ball against Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Although the timing seems right with a new manufacturer coming in, the idea could be fundamentally flawed, especially for Original Six franchises like the Chicago Blackhawks. What makes the NHL different from soccer is that these teams have developed prominent logos that often define the team’s identity. Duplicating the uniform advertising of European football clubs would be much more difficult to accomplish in the NHL.

Picture a “Walgreens” logo across the Blackhawks’ home uniforms, with the iconic Indian Head shoved to the corner of the jersey. Or, imagine a Red Wings jersey with a “Ford” logo across the middle.

The uniform is one of the most identifiable parts of a franchise’s brand. Altering the presentation of the brand by implementing advertising could be viewed as a slap in the face to die-hard fans and a missed opportunity to attract new ones. The NHL certainly could profit from more corporate sponsorships, but in doing so could alienate a passionate and slowly growing fan base.

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