The NHL on Monday displayed a new jersey for each of its 31 teams, looking to create some buzz at a time when there are no games.
The league and players are still targeting a Jan. 1 start for the 2021 season, though there’s plenty of uncertainty about when and where fans might be able to attend.
These “reverse retro” jerseys were several years in the making but are being launched at a time that’s usually hockey season and while revenue is being lost without ticket sales.
“It’s creating buzz and noise in the marketplace where normally we would be having games going on,” said Brian Jennings, NHL chief brand officer and senior executive vice president. “We’re creating a lot of noise right now without the benefit of the live games.”
Instead of fans debating who’s off to a hot start or what might happen in a Tuesday night game between Boston and Buffalo, they’re reacting on social media to these new jerseys. The Colorado Avalanche one features the old Quebec Nordiques design from before the team moved to Denver in 1995; the Carolina Hurricanes one has the famous Hartford Whalers crest and the Pittsburgh Penguins one is reminiscent of the jersey Snoop Dogg wore in the 1993 music video for “Gin and Juice.”
All this started at a brainstorming session at Adidas’ “Creator Farm” in Brooklyn a few years ago when Commissioner Gary Bettman and other executives got to hear about some jersey ideas. Adidas senior director Dan Near said a 2018 survey showed 22 of the 25 most popular jerseys in a fan survey were retro or defunct, which set the wheels in motion for what he called a “complicated but pretty rewarding process.”
But launching it during a pandemic?
“Up front, I was concerned about it,” Near said. “But as we started to come to grips with the realities of launching it in the offseason, essentially, I’ve actually really come to be excited about it.”
It has created a level of interest in the NHL when the return of games is at least six weeks away. A set of new jerseys won’t make up for everything about arenas being dark this fall, but it’s a way to bridge the gap to the beginning of the season.
“When we’re back playing, fingers crossed, in that January time period, we can start to get that other exposure of thrust and you really see it on ice,” Jennings said. “And as excited as I am now, I’m so always excited to see when it comes to watching a professional athlete put it on and get out on the ice.”