For a league that tends to prefer the conservative approach, the NHL’s jersey partnership with Adidas has brought about a host of boundary-pushing initiatives.
Now, the league will need to pivot as Adidas will not be renewing their contract with the league following the 2023-24 season. This isn’t new territory for the league – or the sport as a whole – as the current agreement came about as Reebok was taking on an even greater focus on CrossFit and training. Similarly, Nike’s relationship with Bauer hockey ebbed and flowed before Nike’s involvement in hockey all but ended in the mid-aughts.
The Adidas era of jerseys should be looked upon fondly by NHL fans. They did admirable work with the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, hitting a couple of home runs with the uniforms for the tournament.
Redesigns over these last seven years have been somewhat minimal, with many teams returning to former designs as opposed taking on new looks. But Adidas has left their mark on the league’s alternate jerseys. Pushing boundaries with the designs in Dallas and Edmonton and finding the right mix of heritage and contemporary design with Winnipeg’s (sadly) short-lived Jets script alternate.
Arguably the biggest impact we’ve seen from Adidas is the Reverse Retro program. The new take on alternate jerseys has brought about a raft of excellent and nostalgic uniforms and is a fairly sharp derivation from the typically conservative NHL. Whether the program continues after Adidas departs is a pretty big question from both an aesthetic and revenue perspective.
Adidas also played a central role in the regular rotation of outdoor games, acing their work on the Winter Classic – Buffalo and Nashville have particularly memorable uniforms from the event – while really going outside the box with the Stadium Series. Lest we forget, their influence on the inaugural uniform designs for Vegas and Seattle.
So, where does this leave the NHL for 2024-25? A new uniform supplier will be on the way but which direction will the league head in?
Nike is probably the knee-jerk answer. They are the supplier for the other three major leagues in North America and have kept a small foothold in the sport through the IIHF and select NCAA programs. With the NHL returning to ESPN and perhaps gaining a bit of relevance nationally, it stands to reason the league would be on Nike’s radar.
There are pros and cons to a potential Nike partnership. Brand recognition and strength being chief among them. There’s also the benefit of getting Nike apparel outside of jerseys. As most who have purchased a Fanatics product could tell you, their quality is lacking. The cons, however, are notable. Nike has been a major player in both international and domestic soccer and their use of templates for uniforms has brought about countless forgettable jerseys, many of which are virtually identical. This seeped into hockey with the 2018 Olympic uniforms where nearly every participating team featured nearly identical sleeve designs. Given how things have gone in nearly every other sport Nike works in, I worry the NHL could see similarly lazy design choices.
A brand I haven’t seen mentioned as a potential successor is Under Armour. The company supplies uniforms for notable NCAA programs (Notre Dame, Boston College and Wisconsin), so the sport of hockey isn’t a foreign concept to them. Nor is managing massive brands given their widespread involvement with various NCAA athletics programs. They’ve dealt with some wobbles in recent years which may not put them in a position where they’d want to take on this sort of undertaking, but they are still among the world’s biggest athletics brands that could realistically toss their hat in the ring with the NHL.
I’d add that they are the sort of brand which I would expect to continue pushing boundaries with uniform designs and concepts, not unlike with what we’ve seen from Adidas. Comparatively, CCM is a hockey brand with a rich history tied to the NHL. They already supply uniforms for the AHL and are another company to keep an eye on. But I have questions about how adventurous they would be when it comes to new ideas.
Warrior, which is a subsidiary of New Balance, would probably be considered a dark horse in this race but they’re a name I wouldn’t be surprised to see surface if and when more details emerge on the NHL’s plans. They may not come away with the contract, but I think they have more ability than people would give them credit for. Especially if New Balance puts their might behind a bid.
Warrior was a disruptor in the sport for a long time as they slowly gained a larger and larger market share. They never shied away from that reputation in their marketing, gear design and general attitude towards hockey’s old guard. Now they’re firmly a top-three manufacturer with the likes of Bauer and CCM. With a brand like New Balance behind them, don’t rule them out.
We’ll see what sort of news comes out about the league’s plans for their uniforms in the coming months. My expectation is that things will remain quiet up until a new partner is named and the Adidas deal is petering out. I’m also curious to see what Adidas may bring to the table for the 23-24 season knowing it’s their final year working with the league. Would they do one final round of Reverse Retro jerseys, or even another third jersey program? Or will they put on cruise control?
The only result I fear is one where Fanatics has an even larger influence on uniforms and apparel for the league. Virtually any other result will be something to look forward to, even though we’ll be losing a partner who did so much good work for the league and the sport.
maybe fanatics + m&n step in/up: