Fanatics, the world’s leading licensed sporting apparel supplier, will begin making and designing jerseys for N.H.L. players starting in the 2024-25 season, the latest expansion of its growing uniform business.
Fanatics will replace Adidas, which has made player jerseys since 2017. Fanatics already manufactures all N.H.L. replica jerseys that fans can purchase, as well as the training gear that players and coaches wear in practice and during games. As part of a licensing and sponsorship agreement with the N.H.L., the company’s “F” logo will appear on the back of player jerseys for the first time.
“We had the opportunity to become not just the brand behind the scenes but the brand in front of the scenes,” said Michael Rubin, the chief executive of Fanatics.
Adidas said in July that it would not extend its contract as the league’s uniform and apparel supplier beyond the 2023-24 season.
Fanatics began making player uniforms for Major League Baseball after it acquired Majestic in 2017. For the N.F.L., Nike manufactures uniforms for players, but Fanatics makes the “authentic” N.F.L. jerseys that fans can buy. In both cases, Nike is the official sponsor, so its swoosh logo is on the uniforms.
Hockey has been a growing category for Fanatics. Rubin said his company, which is privately held, sells about $150 million a year in hockey jerseys and other gear to fans, up from about $10 million when the company began working with the N.H.L. about 15 years ago. Now, in addition to fan jerseys, Fanatics will produce tens of thousands of jerseys for players each year, all of them made in Canada, as part of a new, 10-year agreement with the N.H.L.
“This is a logical evolution of what we’ve been doing over the last 15 years,” said Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the N.H.L.
Fanatics also runs merchandise shops in several N.H.L. arenas, as well as the league’s flagship store in Manhattan, and produces the caps and shirts that players wear after they win the Stanley Cup.
Known primarily for its e-commerce sales, Fanatics now produces about half of what it sells. Most of its production capacity was acquired through purchases of companies like Majestic and Mitchell & Ness, which makes vintage and throwback team apparel. The company’s merchandise business will generate about $6 billion this year, Rubin said, and more than 80 percent is sold directly to consumers online or through the 2,000 or so stores that the company operates.
Fanatics’s memorabilia and collectibles division also works with Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, Igor Shesterkin, Nathan MacKinnon and other N.H.L. stars.
“Fanatics is now approaching a $10 billion company, and the cost of the exposure is going to be a great return for our shareholders,” Rubin said about having the company’s logo on the back of N.H.L. uniforms.
Through the 1990s, most major sports leagues and their teams cut deals with several suppliers to produce and sell licensed merchandise. In the past decade or two, leagues began working with just one company to standardize production and distribution. Reebok was the exclusive supplier of N.H.L. gear until it was purchased by Adidas. N.H.L. agreements have tended to run longer than those of other leagues, said Paul Lukas, the founder and editor of Uni Watch, a website devoted to uniforms, logos and related issues.
CCM was the exclusive uniform provider from 2000-1 to 2003-4. Reebok made the league’s uniforms from the 2005-6 season to 2016-17, before Adidas took over.
Many hockey fans also appreciate brands like CCM, Bauer and Koho, which “have a long heritage and greater cachet than some of the corresponding brands have in other sports,” Lukas said.
But hockey fans have also been critical of newcomers, including Fanatics.
Chris Creamer, the founder and editor of Sports Logos.net, said that having a single company design every team’s uniforms can produce “a template-y look. It would be hard to avoid some duplication in design.”
But he said that sports fans in general don’t like change. “They want what they grew up with, everyone and their opinions be damned,” Creamer said. Throwback uniforms, he said, are “like looking through an old family album. With hockey, we love to romanticize the past.”
Fanatics said that when it took over the manufacturing of replica jerseys in 2017, it tweaked the design after speaking with fans. One change included making the shield in the center of jerseys more flexible so they are more easily folded as well as more washable. Fanatics said it also will survey players and equipment managers when it takes over production of their jerseys in another year.