Hockey fans are outraged by the NHL's jersey deal with Fanatics. Here's why.
Nothing riles up fans quite like sports uniform news.
In this case, it was the NHL's new uniform partnership with merchandise giant Fanatics that did the trick.
The NHL announced a deal that will include Fanatics becoming the league's official on-ice outfitter beginning in the 2024-25 season. The 10-year agreement had fans, many of whom have complained about the company's quality for years, up in arms.
So why did the NHL decide to switch manufacturing partners? What are the reasons behind fans' outrage at the deal?
Here's what we know about the league's new uniform manufacturing deal with Fanatics, as well as insight into the public backlash:
Why did the NHL partner with Fanatics?
The NHL's previous uniform partners — Adidas and Reebok, respectively — decided to let their contracts expire. Adidas announced in July 2022 it would not return as the NHL's uniform supplier.
Nike, which already supplies uniforms for the NFL, NBA and MLB, does not have a huge presence in hockey. The same goes for Under Armour.
Fanatics, however, already owns apparel deals with all four major North American sports leagues and serves as an official partner with the NCAA, PGA Tour, Formula One, NASCAR and MLS, among others.
They already produce replica NHL jerseys for sale through their website. Starting in 2024-25, they will produce the official on-ice versions — and plenty of folks think that isn't such a good idea.
Why are fans upset about the NHL's Fanatics deal?
Sports fans from all corners have had a bone to pick with Fanatics for years. Complaints about fabric quality, printing errors and questionable designs are nothing new.
Fanatics is growing into a sports retail monopoly. They produce apparel and merchandise for virtually everything — from mainstream sports to pop culture brands and NFTs. Firmly established in the zeitgeist, a search-engine query related to apparel for nearly anything will lead you to Fanatics.
The idea of official NHL merchandise in the hands of a retail giant with a questionable reputation is unsettling to hockey fans.
One thing to know about hockey fans: Jerseys — some call them "sweaters" — are sacred. Especially for fans of the Original Six teams (Blackhawks, Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Rangers and Red Wings), jerseys are more than a logo stitched on some fabric. They are an identity that has persisted through generations of fandom.
Hockey fans, perhaps more than fans of any other sports, are sensitive to each detail of their team's uniforms. They know each waist stripe, shoulder yoke and number trimming down to the thread. As a result, there is a real concern that Fanatics, which already has a reputation for quality control issues and lackluster products, won't live up to expectations.
What was the reaction to the NHL's Fanatics deal?
The online reaction was overwhelmingly negative.
Have a look at the replies to the NHL's original tweet announcing the partnership and see for yourself. But we'll include some highlights below.
One Twitter user posted a pair of what appeared to be Fanatics NHL jerseys with printing errors. The first was a Jared Spurgeon Minnesota Wild jersey with Spurgeon's name spelled "Spurgeno." The owner also apparently got it signed by Spurgeon, who hilariously inscribed the incorrect name in the autograph. The second was a New Jersey Devils jersey with Jack Hughes' name and number on the back and Nico Hischier's number on the sleeves.
If this was a 1-2 year deal then sure, THIS IS 10 YEARS With a Company with a God Aeful track record pic.twitter.com/KlbEWkSKd5
— THE PASSION™️-atley Optimistic Leaf Fan (@fvc022) March 21, 2023
Another user posted a photo of what looked like a Winnipeg Jets hat with the logo upside down, as well as a Connor Bedard jersey with the name misspelled. These images and others had been previously posted to a Twitter page called "Fanatics Sucks."
I’m so excited! pic.twitter.com/h4m0ZGE0M6
— Jay Money (@insiderJmoney) March 21, 2023
The NHL's official press release said Fanatics will use the same Canadian factory — and even some of the same fabrics — Adidas had been using to produce the league's on-ice uniforms. The release said this would be the case "at least at first" and that Fanatics had hired a team with workers who had "decades of experience working on NHL on-ice and performance products."
That being said, it may be a few years until the NHL's partnership with Fanatics may be fairly judged. Still, there is one thing for certain — the fans aren't on board.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fanatics NHL jersey deal: Fan reaction to new uniform supplier