Bernstein: NHL Stumbles Again With Jerseys

By Dan Bernstein

Merely referring to shirts by the preferred name is sure to cause consternation enough, as something always does with hockey. So let’s have this out first, that jerseys are sweaters or whatever any traditionalist needs to hear to feel better about men’s active-wear for the purposes of this discussion. Call them whatever you want.

The NHL has a unique ability to find creative ways to make strange decisions. Add another to that long list with the announcement that it will be doing away with all alternate jerseys next season when it changes its official manufacturer from Reebok to Adidas. All the enormously popular variations will be unavailable until the new provider gets comfortable, apparently, with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporting that this was mandated “to make the initial implementation of new sweaters easier.”

Easier.

For Adidas. To make sports clothing to sell.

Is it somehow now difficult for them?

Only the NHL would figure out a way to turn this kind of change into an inconvenience for its fans and a marketing step backwards instead of forwards. But it’s what they do.

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Note the clown show that was the roll-out of the Las Vegas expansion franchise as another perfect example. Back in August, reports surfaced that the league’s new team had winnowed down its list of possible names to three finalists: Nighthawks, Desert Hawks and Red Hawks. This was done despite the existence of a certain Chicago team that is their top American brand and also happens to be known familiarly as the ‘Hawks, with no consideration given to what would either be fair to another franchise or in the best interests of the NHL. Shortly after the finalists became public and this misstep was realized, the Las Vegas team regrouped, scuttled those plans to infringe on intellectual property and decided that they would be… the Golden Knights.

They made the announcement and unveiled the logo and printed the T-shirts, and then the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied their trademark application just two weeks later, determining that it was way too close to that of New York’s College of Saint Rose, ruling that “the marks are identical in part, sharing the same dominant wording and overall commercial impression.” So now NHL lawyers have until June 7th to respond.

Only this league. And even when they get something right, they figure out how to lessen its value and impact. Note the overgrowth of outdoor Winter Classic games into the expanded Stadium Series and Heritage Classic, now inflated well past novelty into the ordinary. It was a cool thing once to see the best in the world at some historic sports venue, skating in the falling snow, often opting to wear – ahem – some newly designed throwback jersey. Until we were so force-fed by it that all the cool was subsumed by overwrought efforts to keep it feeling special. They are outside, like they were growing up playing as kids on a frozen lake in Alberta. Yes, we get it.

But no sweet jerseys next year at any of these, however, because the new provider can’t seem to handle it. You’d think that this could have been figured out in advance in a way that would benefit both teams and fans who have become accustomed to the explosion of readily available sports fashion at both the college and pro levels. But then you wouldn’t appreciate how consistent the NHL can be at remaining just enough behind the times.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

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