Change is almost always met with resistance.
When it was announced a year ago that Fanatics, not Adidas, would become the exclusive manufacturer of NHL replica jerseys, the decision was met with skepticism. Unlike the agreement under Reebok, who produced all NHL jerseys, Adidas would only manufacture the authentic AdiZero, handing over replicas to Fanatics and ultimately leaving fans with two noticeably different (and expensive) jerseys to choose from.
After officially launching the “Breakaway” jersey for all 31 teams on Wednesday, some of the early concerns have been cleared up. But there are still big differences between the Adidas and Fanatics model — and that’s by design.
The first thing that stands out about the Breakaway jersey is the feel. It’s made with a more comfortable, flexible fabric that feels much different than a traditional hockey jersey and features a more tailored cut. The Fanatics jersey doesn’t have the mesh shoulders and underarms like the AdiZero or the same shiny NHL crest on the front, but from afar they look close enough to the real deal. As for the logos, numbers and patches, the way they are bonded to the jersey (a combination of stitching and a strong heat-sealed adhesive) is different but the material and quality is the same as on the authentic.
It’s a bold change that probably won’t go over well with some hardcore hockey jersey connoisseurs, but there was a reason for the shift in direction.
“Everything we do is about the fan,” said Raphael Peck, president of Fanatics Brands. “We used our digital reach to go out there and do real focus groups to find out exactly what it is that fans wanted, what did they like what didn’t they like, and then find a way between both genders to ultimately accumulate a set of analytics that helped guide our design process.”
The most common complaint when the first images of the Breakaway were released last fall was about the design of the women’s jersey. Instead of creating a hockey jersey for women, it looked like they were going to go with some kind of fashion-friendly shirt rather than an actual hockey sweater, which isn’t just unfortunate for the female fan but also insulting. Fortunately, thanks to exhaustive consumer research and feedback, Fanatics ended up scrapping the three-quarter sleeve and created a women’s jersey that doesn’t look much different than the men’s, outside of the hem and neckline.
Strangely enough, initial consumer-driven data actually indicated that women wanted a three-quarter sleeve, along with a more tailored look, modern neckline and less scratchy textile. It wasn’t until the second phase of feedback that Fanatics decided to alter the original design.
“Female consumer feedback was probably the most critical in serving direction for us,” said Peck.
“We took all this data from what people had told us and we started to show it to buyers and consumer groups, and most women pushed back on us and said ‘make that a full sleeve’ and ‘a three-quarter sleeve is a reason not to buy the garment.'”
As for the cost, a customized Breakaway jersey will run you $199.99 ($249.99 CAD) for a men’s and $179.99 ($229.99 CAD) for a women’s. For comparison’s sake, a customized AdiZero men’s jersey costs $274.99 ($279.99 CAD) — a female-specific jersey is not available from Adidas. Fanatics also has something called “jersey assurance,” which allows you to get a free replacement if the active pro player you got on your jersey switches teams within 90 days of purchase.
Along with debuting their new line of jerseys, Fanatics also launched a new online store north of the border (NHLShop.ca) that will provide Canadians with a wider range of products and faster shipping.
They also said that beginning next year they will begin manufacturing throwbacks and fashion jerseys (e.g. St. Paddy’s Day jerseys) that are commercialized separately from Adidas.