There are more than a few areas in which the NHL could stand to follow the NBA’s lead. Marketing their stars, targeting growing and untapped markets, and simply being forward thinking in the presentation of the game.
It’s unlikely that the NHL will ever surpass the NBA in terms of popularity and revenue, but taking basketball’s lead in an attempt to grow hockey’s footprint – and ultimately the league’s revenue – is a method which could pay dividends for the NHL. The only remaining hurdle seems to be the NHL’s inability to get out of their own way.
More often than not it appears that the NHL is more than happy to stay in their lane and keep their head down when it comes to presenting the sport. It’s not that the product is bad, per se, but that the league doesn’t seem to be willing to explore new opportunities or look at things in a different manner.
The tweet above regarding the new NBA uniform policy is a great example, albeit a small one, of the NBA opening up to new ideas. The root of this new development is to create a new revenue stream across the entire league by giving all 30 teams a fourth uniform to wear as they see fit. But it’s being done in a manner that is very fan-centric which adds a great deal of appeal.
Using uniforms to create revenue is nothing new in sports. Teams do it in every league, hence why you see uniform cycles on a three-to-five year basis for many organizations. This is partially why nearly every NHL team had to get a new uniform when the Reebok Edge template was introduced and why there is a three-year limit on introducing new alternate uniforms as well. Except in rare cases, new jerseys create buzz and draw fans to team stores and online retailers to buy the new threads.
What I really like about the NBA’s decision to do away with set uniforms for home and away teams are the opportunities it presents for fan engagement. Not all fans are as interested in uniforms as others, but the greatest benefit to this, from a fan perspective, is adding looks to a team’s wardrobe. But with the ability to pick and choose what to wear for home games, teams will have the opportunity to tap into their fan base on a host of matters related to these new jerseys. Whether it’s holding fan votes to pick which uniform to wear on a given night, fan design contests for new designs or simply just creating new apparel or giveaways centered around a certain jersey, teams are being given a vehicle to drive a lot more fan interest on a game to game basis.
This is where I think the NHL could strike gold. It’s no secret that droves of fans want to see the league return to white uniforms as the primary home color. Utilizing a system like this would open the door for teams to wear their white uniforms at home once again. For a league often accused of ignoring its fans, this would be a quick and easy way to score points.
What I like about taking it a step further than simply returning to white jerseys at home is the opportunity for teams to capitalize on fan-favorite looks. For example, a team like Montreal, whose home uniform popular at home or on the road, could wear their red jerseys almost every night. Teams that are more open to trying different looks or displaying throwback looks (like Arizona and the Peyote Coyote) would be able to expand their wardrobe to a third or fourth jersey without the restrictions of the league’s alternate uniform policy.
Uniforms from outdoor games would be on the table along with more run-of-the-mill alternate jerseys that individual teams create. The other underutilized asset is the NHL’s Vintage Hockey collection, an officially licensed line that produces apparel for forgotten teams like the Nordiques, Whalers, North Stars, Rockies and more. Vintage Hockey encompasses active teams as well, meaning a large portion of the league would be serviced by expanding the collection into an active jersey line.
Every team would be a little different in terms of their approach, Original Six teams would certainly use more vintage and traditional options while more adventurous clubs could take advantage of the quartet of options to create something of an Oregon Ducks-lite uniform wardrobe.
This would need to be massaged a bit, but imagine if the Rangers could rotate through their current uniforms, throwback alternate and the Lady Liberty alternate jersey. The Sabres could wear their original white uniform a majority of the time but have the ability to cycle in the goathead and maybe a vintage-inspired alternate along the way.
I feel that this would be a tremendous opportunity for the league to drastically expand the money they make off of jersey sales while simultaneously scoring major points with the fan base. Returning to white jerseys at home would be a start, but this would be a forward-thinking step in the right direction.