On Tuesday, September 15, the NHL and Adidas announced a seven-year partnership that will make Adidas the official outfitter of on-ice uniforms & official supplier of licensed apparel for the National Hockey League, starting with the 2017/18 season. Check out why this deal with Adidas opens a great chance for the NHL and its fans.
First of all & most important for the fans: This deal does NOT mean advertising on NHL sweaters is coming in the near future!
Commissioner Bettman emphatically denied that the new partnership with adidas means advertising on NHL sweaters is coming in the near future.
“The fact of the matter is, and I’ve been fairly vocal on this over the last few years as the subject has come up, we are not currently considering putting advertising on NHL jerseys,” Commissioner Bettman said. “There have been no discussions formally or informally with anybody about doing that.”
“It goes to the respect we have for the history and tradition of our game, the reverence that fans have for our sweaters and our game,” Commissioner Bettman said. “Our sweaters, I think among all the sports, are iconic, which is why previously I’ve been quoted as saying we certainly won’t be the first [to put advertising on jerseys], you’d probably have to drag me kicking and screaming, which would take a lot, a lot, a lot of money, and it’s something we’re not considering now.”
Why Adidas on its own and not anymore its subsidiary Reebok?
Adidas is repositioning its struggling brand Reebok as a pure fitness brand, since it was bought by Adidas in 2006. Therefore extending Reebok’s ties to the NHL, after the current Reebok-NHL-Deal ends after the 2016/17 NHL Season, wouldn’t make any sense for Adidas.
According to Mark King, president of Adidas’s North American operations, the Reebok brand “made a pivot in 2010 out of sport and into fitness. For us, this is a real opportunity to put the brands in sync, Reebok focusing on things […] that directly relate to the fitness category. Adidas is about sport – the games we play that the fans love to watch.” — Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/adidas-signs-seven-year-uniform-deal-with-nhl-replacing-reebok/article26369549/
Mark King, president of adidas Group North America, said the deal with the NHL allows adidas to partner with a major sports league to further its sports brand in North America. He said it also gives Reebok the opportunity to continue to strengthen its position as a fitness brand, which is in line with its business strategy. — Source: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=779133
In order to dispel a common, but wrong perception:
“Adidas is a soccer brand & company without any hockey tradition. I wished Nike would have won that deal!”
No, it is NOT! The original company of Adidas was founded as a company producing shoes for EVERY kind of sports. Their first used shoes were running shoes. That they produced soccer sports wear before hockey sports wear just has to do with the fact that it’s a company based in Germany/Europe aka countries where everything is about soccer before any other sports. Not to mention that Nike is actually producing even more soccer sports wear than Adidas.
Furthermore, Adidas owns the brand Reebok (founded in 1895) & the (hockey) brand CCM (founded in 1899), which began producing hockey skates in 1905 – in my opinion CCM is THE hockey brand per se!
On top of that, Adidas began producing hockey skates on its own way before the brand Nike was even founded!
Adidas Hockey Skates from the 1930’s/40’s – German Hockey Hall of Fame:
Adidas “Canada” from the 70’s:
On the other side, we have the brands Nike (founded in 1964, respectively 1971) and its subsidiary Bauer Hockey (founded in 1927).
This basically results in Adidas being able to look back on 327 years of history, tradition, development, experience & know-how when it comes to sports wear, compared to Nike just being able to look back on 139 years in the same category! So much for the “tradition argument” …
Why does this deal with Adidas open a great chance for the NHL and its fans?
Let’s be honest & face the truth: The NHL as a whole is all about business. The owners of NHL teams, be it a single person or a owners group, always want their “company” to grow. That means they are always seeking for making more money.
Adidas is going to give them more money! First of all by simply paying the NHL way more money per season, than Adidas/Reebok is doing right now. That alone actually helps avoiding advertisement on NHL Jerseys for some more time!
The NHL’s deal with Reebok pays the league about $35 million per season, a source said. The new deal with Adidas will see the rights fee double, the source said. — Source: http://www.tsn.ca/adidas-lands-nhl-jersey-deal-1.346839
Secondly, way more important & something the NHL has completely missed out on until now: Making money on the European market! However, there is hope that this fact might change!
“The adidas brand, almost more than any brand in sport, is global,” King said. “Gary said one of the things he was really looking for in a partner was the ability to take the hockey message and the NHL message around the world. We’re really pleased to help the NHL and the sport of hockey be exposed around the world.”
The NHL is also intrigued by adidas’ global outreach, which is in sync with Commissioner Bettman’s stated goal of encouraging the growth of the game on a worldwide basis.
“Their strength in Europe, in markets like Russia, big hockey markets that are important to us, they can really help lead us to grow that global brand, global business potential that the commissioner has been talking about,” NHL COO John Collins said. — Source: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=779133
For nearly a century the NHL has continued to develop a kind of disregardful, at times even arrogant attitude towards European Hockey – unfortunately there is no other way to put it! Instead of opening up the European Market, the NHL rather concentrated on – literllay – locating NHL Franchises in deserts & other markets with low potential, reaching its climax with the planned expansion team in Las Vegas.
Why do I have a problem with NHL expansions to locations like Las Vegas?
The most valuable & most important property, the greatest wealth of the company called NHL is the Quality of its Hockey Players, even though many of the people who have a say in the NHL are still refusing to believe this fact!
More NHL Franchises means more hockey players in the NHL. So far, so good. The problem: Expansions to locations like Las Vegas will NOT equally lead to generating more young, talented hockey players – not at all!
The result: More less-talented hockey players, who would never have made the NHL, are all of a sudden playing in the NHL. This reduces the quality of the NHL in general, which leads to the NHL losing attractiveness, which ultimately leads to the NHL making less money in the long term!
The NHL finally has to accept, that the North American market might be exhausted, when it comes to the amount of hockey teams!
The (not too distant) future of the NHL lies in Europe!
Establishing additional NHL Franchises in Europe is the only way for the NHL to expand without diluting the talent and quality of its hockey players!
No, I’m not kidding & the fact that many fans perceive this statement more as a joke than anything else, is just proof of the (already mentioned) fact that large parts of North American Hockey & the NHL in particular display a disregardful attitude towards European Hockey, underestimating its potential!
“Europe is all about soccer. There isn’t any hockey market at all, let alone any hockey tradition. The attendances of hockey games in Europe are really low!”
That sums up the perceptions many North American hockey fans have regarding to European Hockey – but those perceptions are all plain wrong!
Regarding to “No hockey tradition”:
National governing bodies of ice hockey in Europe:
- Swiss Ice Hockey Federation (SIHF) – founded in 1908
- Swedish Ice Hockey Association (SIHA) – founded in 1922
- German Ice Sports Association (since 1963: German Ice Hockey Federation (DEB)) – founded in 1888
- Finnish Ice Hockey Association – founded in 1929
- Austrian Ice Hockey Association (ÖEHV) – founded in 1912
Hockey might not be as popular in Europe as in North America, but the European Ice Sports & Hockey Associations can look back on a history & tradition which dates back to the same time as the Hockey Associations in North America.
Regarding to “Low attendances”:
Let’s take Switzerland and its professional ice hockey league – the NLA (National League A) – as an example:
Sure, the average attendance of each hockey game in Switzerland during the 2014/15 season (6762) has been way below the NHL average (17502). However, you have to take into account that the “draw area” for fans of Swiss hockey teams is way different compared to the “draw area” for hockey fans of NHL teams!
While the U.S State Pennsylvania is around three times as large as Switzerland, it just has two NHL teams with an combined average attendance per matchday of 37887 (during the 2014/15 season). In copmarison to Pennsylvania, Switzerland has 12 hockey teams in its top-tier professional hockey league (NLA) with an combined average attendance per matchday of 40572 (during the 2014/15 season).
If you combine the average attendance per matchday of the 16 biggest European Hockey Leagues, you can actually see that the amount of people attending hockey games in Europe is actually higher than the amount of people attending NHL games:
Due to those numbers representing the average attendances per matchday (so actually just considering one half of all hockey arenas and its attendances), you have to duplicate those numbers in order to receive a rough estimator for the popularity of hockey in each country/state, as measured by the average amount of people being willing and able to buy hockey tickets.
Attention: I am not saying that those numbers represent the total amount of hockey fans in Europe and North America. No doubt, the actual amount of hockey fans is much bigger & different between Europe and North America!
The numbers from above are, first of all, just averages. Furthermore, there are certainly hockey fans, who are never attending hockey games at all during a hockey season.
In addition to that, there are a lot of hockey fans in North America, who simply cannot attend the games as the most NHL hockey arenas have already & always reached their maximum capacity, while nearly every European hockey arena does not reach its maximum capacity during every game.
- As I already mentioned – the numbers from above can just be seen as a rough estimator for the popularity of hockey in Europe and North America.
- We cannot simply compare the numbers of the NHL with the numbers of European Hockey, as we cannot assume that the percentage of the actual (total) amount of hockey fans, being represented by the estimators from above, is the same for Europe and North America.
You can argue that this percentage is way way lower in North America (than in Europe) due to …
- the longer distances to NHL arenas.
- to the (already above-mentioned) fact that many NHL hockey arenas have already & always reached their maximum capacity.
- the ticket prices being way higher.
On the other side, the majority of cities & its metropolitan areas with an NHL team has way more inhabitants than the European cities & metropolitan areas with a top-tier hockey league team. Furthermore, the distances to many European hockey cities are also already big enough in order to display a barrier regarding to the willingness to travel to those cities. However, this definitely does not compensate the differences regarding to the percentage of the actual (total) amount of hockey fans, being represented by the estimators from above.
A way more important circumstance which we have to take into consideration, is the fact that the numbers for Europe mostly represent the “diehard hockey fans”, while the numbers for the NHL (North America) inlcude way way more “bandwagon fans”, fans who are spoiled with the world’s best hockey players. And that is no criticism! It’s simply a fact that sports teams have way more fans & higher attendances, once they have better players and therefore are providing a higher game quality.
It’s also a fact that nearly every hockey player, playing in any European hockey league, is not even half as good as the average NHL player.
It’s by far not a rarity, that a European hockey team duplicates its attendance (or even more), once it has way better players, winning way more games. As mentioned above: The North American hockey market is – compared to the European hockey market – already exhausted!
Be sure that the attendances in European hockey arenas would heavily increase, once European hockey fans would have the chance of regularly watching all the stars from the NHL!
How can we compare the numbers of the NHL with the numbers of European Hockey?
In his article – Las Vegas Expansion Team Would Have By Far Smallest Fan Base In NHL – Jim Pagels from Forbes provides some numbers regarding to the size of NHL Fan Bases.
According to those numbers the NHL (North America) has a combined (total) amount of 25 340 000 hockey fans. The estimator from above assumes an average amount of 528 093 hockey fans (from 2012/13 to 2014/15) being willing and able to buy game tickets. Therefore, this estimator represents around 2,084% of the actual amount of hockey fans in North America.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any equal data available, when it comes to European hockey fan bases. All we can do, is providing & calculating some different “what-if-scenarios”, receiving with the help of a simple extrapolation:
Europe would have a combined (total) amount of 26 370 697 hockey fans, if the percentage of the actual (total) amount of European hockey fans, being represented by the estimator from above (549 565), would be the same as the percentage of the actual (total) amount of North American hockey fans, being represented by the estimator from above (528 093) – aka 2,084%. This estimated amount can definitely be ruled out!
How could we receive a way more realistic estimation of this percentage?
Sport1, the official broadcaster of hockey games of the German Men’s National Ice Hockey Team during World Championships, registered following TV-Ratings during some World Championship Games:
This leads to the following assumption: Germany has a combined (total) amount of 1 126 000 hockey fans. The estimator for the German Hockey League (DEL) assumes an average amount of 88 359 hockey fans (from 2012/13 to 2014/15) being willing and able to buy game tickets. Therefore, this estimator represents around 7,847% of the actual amount of hockey fans in Germany.
Therefore, I think it’s way more realistic to assume a Europe-wide — average — percentage of around 7,847%. I would presume countries like Switzerland, Finland & Sweden have slightly lower percentages, while other countries likely have higher percentages. This results in Europe right now having a combined (total) amount of around 7 003 509 hockey fans.
The number from above is a very very rough estimate & more than likely a “pessimistic” estimate, which should be rather looked upon as an indicator for the (current) amount of European “diehard hockey fans”.
Reasons: First of all, the German Men’s National Ice Hockey Team is not very “popular” in Germany due to a steady underachievement during the last couple of decades. Furthermore, the World Ice Hockey Championships is not very popular, as well!
As you can see in the spreadsheet with the TV-Ratings: There was one hockey game — 2010 Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships, Semi-Finals: Germany vs. Russia — which watched around 2,5 Million people in Germany! The circumstances of the World Ice Hockey Championships taking place in Germany AND the German Men’s National Ice Hockey Team reaching the semi-finals were already enough in order to motivate more than twice as much people to watch a hockey game!
This number is clearly proving that …
- the total amount of hockey fans in Europe is more than likey higher than the estimation from above indicates!
- there is a lot of potential for growth when it comes to hockey in Germany and Europe!
According to Jim Pagels (in “Las Vegas Expansion Team Would Have By Far Smallest Fan Base In NHL”) the most-promising potential expansion site – Quebec City – has a total amount of 530 000 NHL fans, while Europe would already have fourteen-times the amount of hockey fans (regarding to its top-tier hockey leagues), with a lot of potential for growth!
The Hockey Fan Base in Europe would extremely grow because of the possibility to see the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby & Alexander Ovechkin play every year alone!
But way more important & much more sustainable: A NHL Expansion into Europe also results in a transfer of hockey know-how from North America to Europe! It furthermore results into more & better qualified hockey coaches, development coaches, hockey managers & scouts permanently working in Europe. All this leads to …
- far more children deciding to play hockey.
- a way better development of the children and teenagers playing hockey.
This would result in the NHL generating more & more highly talented European hockey players, which would increase the quality of the NHL in general, which would furthermore increase the attractiveness of the NHL in North America & even more in Europe (talented hometown/homeland players!!!) & that would ultimately result in more children deciding to start playing hockey – a self-boosting circular flow until the European hockey market would be exhausted just like the one of North America!
The NHL could easily accelerate this process by making aimed & direct investments in the promotion of young hockey players. For example by establishing youth academies for hockey, including departements for hockey management & coaching, sports performance, as well as departments for sports medicine & nutrition! Buildings like the just opened UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex of the Pittsburgh Penguins!
In my opinion, this whole “investments in youth academies” is an area the NHL is already too much disregarding in North America, as well!
How could an expansion into Europe be realized?
It’s not the main aim of this article to show a detailed concept on how a NHL expansion into Europe would have to be realized. However, check out
What part does Adidas play in all this?
As mentioned above: So far the NHL ignored the European hockey market for the most part. And even though Gary Bettman’s words might indicate that he will try to change this fact in the future, this won’t happen in a sustained manner until every owner of a NHL Franchise can be fully convinced of the potential of the European hockey market! And the only way you can fully convince bussinemen when it comes to their business matters: They literally have to see the money they would be able to earn by investing in specific areas!
First of all, there are a lot of NHL Fans over here in Europe! The most of them want to (regularly) buy jerseys and other licensed apparel of their favorite NHL Team, just like most fans in North America. However, there are barely any Reebok stores in Europe, less to none CCM Hockey stores. Buying NHL Jerseys is really difficult, especially if it’s not a “common Crosby Jersey”. You have to directly import them from the States or Canada, which is very expensive due to excessive shipping costs and additional taxes. It’s – for example – not a rarity that Europeans have to pay around $260 for a jersey that costs around $170 in the NHL stores in North America! No matter of how big of a fan you are, price disparities like in this example inevitably lead to WAY less jersey sellings than it actually would be possible under different circumstances!
Unlike Reebok & CCH Hockey stores, there are a lot of Adidas stores in Europe. Adidas – itself (!!!) – being the supplier of NHL jerseys opens the golden opportunity of a regular NHL jersey selling in Adidas stores all over Europe, as well as a regular sale of other licensed NHL apparel. It even opens the opportunity of a European NHL store – for example in Berlin.
All this would definitely lead to more jersey & NHL apparel sellings in Europe, as well as to an increased European interest in the NHL – the kind of boost the NHL and its people in authority would need in order to really consider and work on a NHL expansion into Europe!
A positive side effect: The NHL making a lot more money in the course of the opening of the European Hockey market may delay or even prevent NHL’s people in authority from forcing advertisements on NHL jereys!
To sum it up: There is no way around Europe, if the NHL wants to expand without diluting its talent & therefore its quality! The sooner the NHL realizes that its not too distant future lies in Europe the better for the NHL and all its fans!
Used Data Base:
The numbers shown in the spreadsheets & calculations are all rounded. However, I used the exact data (every fractional digits) for the calculations of the percentages & total amounts, as well as for the extrapolations!!!
– Benedikt Bäumler