Not a fan of Fanatics
To get a 10-year contract with a major sports league, apparently you just have to suck.
The NHL, for all their many faults, has usually been pretty good at making uniforms.
You could argue that NHL’s jerseys have never really been bad at all. Even upon the league’s inception all the way back in 1917-18, you still had the classic Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs designs that proved to be so perfect, they haven’t really ever changed.
This continued through the years, and every time the league added a team, the jerseys were always a standout. And that has been the case ever since, maybe there were a couple bad ideas in the early to mid 2000s but hey, did you see what the NBA was wearing around that time? Look up “mid-2000s NBA shorts” on Google Images and click on the first result. Yeah, that happened; they make the “Buffaslug” look normal by comparison.
Regardless, NHL team uniforms have always been high quality, unique, and produced by reputable brand names like Nike, Reebok, and at least until now, Adidas.
But starting in 2024, Fanatics will be taking over for Adidas as the NHL’s main uniform provider. The company has become an e-commerce giant over the last decade and a half since its inception in 2011, but this is the first time that the company’s logo will appear on a professional league’s jerseys.
Now largely, the on-ice jerseys will remain the same, Fanatics will continue to use the same Quebec-based factory, the facility currently used by Adidas as well as Reebok before them, to manufacture any game worn apparel.
What I particularly want to focus on with Fanatics, is their customer service.
I know, customer service complaints are a thrilling topic for an NHL blog, but at the same time, a jersey is a real investment for a lot of people. When I was a young hockey fan, unwrapping the authentic Mike Richards Flyers home jersey I got for my birthday was a huge moment. I was just so thrilled to have it, it never crossed my mind to be worried about the quality of the product.
If you scroll through any the Twitter threads discussing the Fanatics acquisition, you will find countless examples of some of the most egregious mistakes I’ve ever seen on a licensed product.
Names misspelled, reversed names, the name plate not matching the number, jerseys that have the number of one popular player, but the name of another completely different popular player, (think a jersey number 79 with KONECNY above it). And there are lots of posts like that, way more than enough to suggest that there is a real issue with the quality assurance team that is going to handle the next decade of NHL apparel.
The NHL has started to make decisions that upset a sizable portion of the fanbase with increasing regularity. Whether it be the addition of advertisements to the boards, or to helmets and jerseys, or the lack Olympic participation, there are certain small changes that don’t seem to be in the interest of fan experience.
These things don’t technically have any impact on the on-ice product, outside of maybe a poorly stitched on patch falling to the ice and tripping up a player like a banana peel in Mario Kart. But they do have an impact on fans and their entire experience with the league as a whole. You could argue that this point in NHL history is the most exciting there’s ever been and yet, fans are still apathetic towards the league’s brass.
There are a million different reasons as to why this may be the case, but the point is, Fanatics taking over jersey manufacturing is just another change that flies in the face of what the larger consensus would prefer, and represents an NHL market where the options for merchandise are only getting smaller and smaller.
If you go onto the Flyers official online store, you’ll be greeted by Fanatics merchandise, Adidas merchandise, and... not much else. Once the Adidas stock eventually disappears in 2024, you will be left with virtually nothing but one manufacturer who has essentially cornered the market.
Fanatics already runs all of the NHL’s E-commerce platforms, they’ve already brokered a deal that allowed them to make cheaper replica Breakaway jerseys prior to acquiring the rights to the on-ice product, and they already have the rights to the NHL’s Authentic Pro series, which manufactures the training and practice gear players and coaches use.
Even if Fanatics was fantastic and at the height of quality (they’re not), this would still be of concern because it allows them to jack up prices even higher than they are now, due to the lack of competition in the market. All of this could lead to an environment where fans have the choice between Fanatics, a $270 (CAD) jersey where you cannot fully be assured that the item you’re getting is what you ordered, or nothing at all.
Maybe this will all turn out fine, and nobody even notices the difference, there doesn’t seem to be any imminent plans to changes designs just yet so, what you see is still what you get in terms of the on-ice product. It does give me pause regardless, because I know that I probably wouldn’t have the same relationship with the Flyers that I do now if I pulled that jersey out 15 years ago and it said RICHARDZ, #81.