By Barry Janoff
September 16, 2015: What had been talked about behind closed doors for nearly a year and a half and hinted at in public for weeks became official when the NHL shared details of its new seven-year alliance making adidas the exclusive outfitter of on-ice uniforms and official supplier of licensed apparel and headwear for the league starting with the 2017-18 season.
Adidas will replace one of its own divisions, Reebok, which has held the rights since 2005, a year before it was acquired by adidas Group.
Adidas also becomes the exclusive outfitter of both authentic and replica jerseys for the eight-team World Cup of Hockey next September.
In addition, adidas Group-owned CCM will remain an official on-ice equipment supplier for NHL players, including sticks, skates, helmets, gloves and goaltending gear.
Financial terms of the deal were not shared. Both sides said the process began about 16 months ago.
"This is an exciting time for the NHL, coming off another exciting and competitive season," Gary Bettman, commissioner for the league, said during a media conference in the NHL's New York offices on Tuesday (Sept. 15). "Having a great partnership with adidas is what we are all about."
In addition to merchandising rights, the partnership will put adidas products in every NHL locker room, and the company said it would nave a major presence at all key NHL events, including the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the NHL All-Star Game.
Adidas also plans to connect with fans via "large-scale brand activations" and will "spur growth and excitement in the game" through grassroots initiatives.
The deal is the latest in a series of important moves that the NHL has made during the off-season.
In July, Bridgestone the official tire of the NHL and the NHL Players' Assn. extended its role as title sponsor for the Winter Classic and the brand's involvement in other league activations for five seasons.
In August, the league unveiled a six-year digital media rights partnership between the NHL and Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the technical arm of MLB, that is expected to enhance user experience across the league's digital platforms, including GameCenter Live, NHL Center Ice, NHL Network and NHL.com. The deal also provides for an equity share for the NHL in a new tech company to be launched by MLBAM.
Sponsorship spending on the NHL and the league’s 30 clubs set a record in 2014-15, topping $447 million.
That figure is up $60 million (9.2%) from the previous year and nearly $100 million more than the $356 million total in 2011, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report from marketing, research and consulting firm IEG, Chicago.
However, the signing also comes as adidas is ending its long-time NBA alliance and has seen its market share of retail sales in the U.S. overtaken by Under Armour and cut into by Skechers and other rivals, according to industry analysts, all of whom trail Nike, which picks up adidas' NBA association beginning with the 2017-18 season.
"This partnership with the NHL is evidence of our comprehensive commitment to the athlete," said Mark King, president for adidas Group North America. "Adding the league to our growing icon portfolio — which includes premier athletes and U.S. league partnerships across football, basketball and baseball — is just the start for us."
Regarding the move from Reebok to parent company adidas — which Bettman said would be "seamless" — King explained by posing a question: "People might ask, 'What's the deal with Reebok?' In 2010, the Reebok brand made a pivot out of sport and into fitness. Reebok is about fitness; adidas is about sports, helping athletes to perform better. This is a real opportunity to put the brands in sync."
The deal also brought to the forefront an on-going situation as to whether or not the NHL would begin to put ads on its jerseys, other than the potential of adidas' three-stripe logo.
"There has been speculation that this deal will inevitably lead to ads on jerseys," Bettman said during the media conference. "That is absolutely not true. The fact of the matter is, we are not currently considering putting advertising on NHL jerseys. There have been no discussions formally or informally with anyone about doing that."
The door for such a situation was left open, however, by Donald Fehr, executive director for the NHL Players Assn. "The World Cup gives us an opportunity for experimentation, if we want to, for different things," said Fehr. "From the players' standpoint, my obligation is to explore all avenues (of revenue)."
"Teaming up with adidas continues our strategy of aligning with major partners who share our vision for growing the game and putting innovation at the forefront."
Regarding adidas' departure from the NBA, which signed a new deal with Nike after adidas opted not to renew a contract that expires following the 2016-17 season, King said, "A partnership works two ways. We pursued (the NBA), but could not come to an agreement. So we walked away."
Adidas remains the official outfitter for MLS via a deal that runs through 2018.
"Despite reports to the contrary, associations with sports and brands is important to us," said King. "We need to have associations with major leagues."
"Adidas will be instrumental in providing leading technology to produce hockey jerseys for the world's best hockey players, while also serving our growing global fan base with innovative products," said Fehr. "We look forward to partnering with the creative minds at adidas who collectively share our focus on growing the game of hockey around the world."
"Teaming up with adidas continues our strategy of aligning with major partners who share our vision for growing the game and putting innovation at the forefront of everything we do for our players and fans," said Bettman. "As an iconic performance brand with global reach, adidas is the perfect partner for us. With the World Cup of Hockey next year and the launch of our new partnership coinciding with our Centennial Celebration in 2017, there could not be a more appropriate time for us take our longstanding relationship to new heights."