Over the summer, it was announced that Adidas won’t be renewing their contract with the NHL following its expiration after the 2023-24 season. The bidding process likely began sometime in August, and the League likely needs to decide on a new supplier soon. For reference, Adidas was announced as the successor to Reebok in September 2015, a full two years before the designs hit the ice in the 17-18 season. So six months after the news broke, but with an announcement potentially coming as soon as the All Star break, let’s finally look at some options.
Note that, as a jersey collector and design student, I’ll mostly be looking at these companies’ history with hockey in the past, not which option would be the best in terms of brand recognition or production capacity.
Nike, the Inept Empire
The all-seeing swoosh is by far the leader for the NHL contract, seeing as they’re the biggest uniform supplier on the planet. They already supply the uniforms for the NFL (since 2012), NBA (since 2017), and MLB (since 2019), plus several major NCAA schools, so an NHL deal would complete the sweep of the Big Four and give them a virtual monopoly on professional sports uniforms, at least in North America.
Unfortunately, Nike can’t design a hockey jersey to save their lives.
Nike has had the IIHF contract since time immemorial (some digging through Google Images suggests they first got the contract in 1998), and almost none of them have been good. Fellow SB Nation blog (and Vox screw over recipient) Davy Jones’ Locker Room has a great article explaining why this is, but essentially, Nike’s entire brand is centered around being ultra-simplistic and/or using striking geometric patterns, neither of which lend themselves to hockey.
In addition their template is just awkward for designers. In addition to some structural and material issues, which DJLR goes over in detail, the template just sucks. It’s balanced weirdly and really inflexible. The yoke is way too big, containing the player name AND shoulder numbers (with, as far as I’m aware, no option to flex them into other spots), throwing the whole uniform off-balance. Arm stripes are unable to go fully around, and I legitimately can’t remember a Nike hockey jersey with hem stripes made in the last decade.
Would taking on the NHL force Nike to fix these issues? Possibly. But they haven’t yet for the Olympics, which are arguably a bigger stage, so I doubt will see much success. My best guess is that it’ll be similar to the Reebok era, starting with some real duds before improving to some stunning beauties as it became obvious that what they’re trying isn’t working. Hopefully.
CCM, the Treasured Child
Alright, enough complaining about Nike. CCM is the other obvious choice, already grabbing the deal for the AHL, all three Canadian Major Junior leagues, and several NCAA schools. Personally, they’re the best bet to win the contract. They’re big players in the hockey world, and have done some great stuff at lower levels.
The main issue with CCM is that, to the general public, they’re a little-known to non-existant entity. Now, this isn’t a dealbreaker. After all, can you guess who the MLB’s uniform supplier from 2005-19 was? Wrong, it’s Majestic. Who? Exactly. But it does have an effect. CCM would be able to provide less cross-promotion, less advertising, etc.
I would counter that Adidas isn’t doing that anyways so it doesn’t matter all that much. Here’s a fun challenge: go to adidas.com, and try to find an NHL jersey. You might logically start by selecting “Jerseys.” However, the entire first page is FIFA World Cup kits, aside from a single Mighty Ducks remake. You don’t reach an NHL jersey until midway down the second page, and don’t start showing up consistently until the third page. So you can’t get much worse than that.
Under Armor, the Underdog
If I were to chose a company to take over the NHL, I’d chose Reebok. But they don’t really exist anymore, so of current major brands, I’d chose Under Armor. It’s the best of both worlds! They’re still a reputable, nationally-known company (thanks, Steph!), but is still small enough that they’d actually emphasize an NHL contract (unlike Adidas, and likely Nike), that also has existing experience with hockey (mostly in the NCAA ranks). And they’ve done some great stuff, too!
I feel like that partnership has a lot of cool potential. UA nails their first Big 4 contract, the NHL gets to be the top League in a company’s catalog. It seems like a win-win. But, the main issue here is likely one of interest. Would Under Armor want to make uniforms for the NHL? Does Under Armor consider that a worthy investment? I would sure hope so, but a certain media conglomerate just declined to, so I’m not holding my breath. One can dream, though.
So those are the major players! Bauer and Warrior could technically make a run, but I feel like CCM has such a larger foothold that, if the NHL wants to go with a hockey centric-brand, it’d win pretty easily. And with Adidas declining to renew and Reebok no longer meaningfully existing, that’s pretty much it. Unless we get some rand...
The last I’ve heard, it’s going to be Fanatics, but can’t confirm it yet.— Gabe™️ (@GTAC13JERSEYS) January 16, 2023
Fanatics, the Abomination Hidden in Plain Sight
Oh. Oh, no. Gabe is one of the most trusted insiders for NHL uniform news, so if he’s saying it, it’s likely true. Or at minimum, it has some credence behind it.
For those unaware, Fanatics has recently grown into a monopolistic engine that does lower-range replica jerseys and other off-field apparel (t-shirts, hoodies, tumblers, hats, flags, etc.) for the majority of North American pro sports. Basically, they’re Nike-lite, except with horrible quality control and a complete lack of creativity. The majority of Fanatics design use the same template for every team.
The NHL would be the first league to have their on-field designs made and produced by Fanatics, so they could technically be really good. But, I’d put the odds of that at maybe 5%. Now, it is important to note that Fanatics did buyout Majestic in 2017, meaning that they indirectly supplied the MLB with uniforms for two years. This means that, hypothetically, they do have the infrastructure to maintain production for a Big Four sports league. So this isn’t as crazy as it looks at first glance.
Except it is crazy. It would be the worst of all worlds. You sign on with a decently widely-hated company. You get the antithesis of the brand recognition Nike or UA would give you, instead coming across as a second-tier league outfitted by the online equivalent of Kohl’s. And you don’t get the attention and care CCM or another hockey-specific brand gives you. It’s a terrible idea. Which is probably why the NHL is jumping right on it.