NHL and Fanatics unveil new jerseys for the 2024-25 season

Fanatics and the NHL on Wednesday unveiled new on-ice player jerseys for the 2024-25 season, which officials say have been tested and refined well before making their debut in games this fall.

It is the first time the company has designed and made in-game uniforms with its own branding for a major North American professional sports league. Fanatics, which was criticized for Major League Baseball uniform issues that MLB and the MLB Players Association later said Nike was responsible for and was fixing for next season, is using the same factory that has made hockey sweaters for decades.

“This is a huge moment for our company, our 22,000 employees, really to demonstrate what we can do when we have full control over the end-to-end process,” Fanatics Commerce CEO Andrew Low Ah Kee told The Associated Press. “We all take a lot of pride in the work that we do. Ultimately, it’s not about the words that come out. It’s about the actual product and we’re excited to have that on players and equally with fans because the proof is going to be in the actual product.”

The league said playoff MVP Connor McDavid, Florida Panthers Stanley Cup-winning captain Aleksander Barkov and teammate Matthew Tkachuk, brother Brady Tkachuk and two-time champions Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov were among the players on all 32 teams who got to see, feel and try on the new jerseys.

Keith Leach, Fanatics' NHL VP and general manager, said one of the initial prototypes developed in 2023 showed “board burn” wear and tear that dissipated sleeves, leading the company to add an extra layer of reinforcement to solve the problem. He said equipment managers reacted positively to the change, which was tested during some summer skates and refined before moving on in the process.

“The players got to see it — not every player but (more than 100) players got to see it — before the playoffs,” Leach told the AP. “That way there’s no surprise of, ‘It just showed up in my locker room in training camp and there’s my jersey.’”

That was the reaction, and not in a good way, of many baseball players at spring training, after Nike made changes to MLB uniforms. Fanatics Founder and CEO Michael Rubin said in March that his company made everything to Nike's specifications, and a memo sent to players by the MLBPA in late April called it “entirely a Nike issue" for "innovating something that didn’t need to be innovated.”

Fanatics and the NHL, which reached a 10-year agreement in March 2023, wanted to keep the changes to a minimum. Teams were given a moratorium on rebrands, other than Anaheim and Los Angeles already in process and the notable exception of the Arizona Coyotes moving to Salt Lake City in April and recently becoming known as the Utah Hockey Club.

"I’m proud of what the Utah Hockey Club has done under very, very short time frames," longtime NHL executive VP of marketing Brian Jennings told the AP. “I think when the uniform comes out, despite all the people that are online and they say what they do — we’ve all experienced that — you’ll see a world-class uniform and an evolving brand structure from the Utah Hockey Club.”

Leach also said part of the process was building a world-class team including experienced designer Dom Fillion and sticking with SP Apparel, which has been churning out jerseys for the league for nearly 50 years. They will still come from SP's factory in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, outside Montreal, which produced them for Adidas since 2017 and Reebok for a decade before that.

In the news release accompanying the jersey reveal, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Fanatics “preserved the quality, performance and design of our uniforms" and NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said company officials from very early in the process “have kept their commitment to partnering with the players in the transition to the new on-ice jersey.”

Jennings said the league and its partners don't take lightly the responsibility of making jerseys in a sport predicated on players' speed and skill. Toronto's Auston Matthews in a quote provided in the news release said the jerseys feel comfortable and look breathable, adding, "Any little detail that can help us perform at our best makes a difference.”

“What they do on the ice on an eighth of an inch of steel is simply magnificent, and we want to make sure that they continue to do that,” Jennings said. “You always want to say, ‘Hold on a second, when you see this being worn under the big lights by professional athletes, it is going to raise the bar.'”

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl