Before a game, there has always been one major difference on NHL social media accounts that differed from the other major sports. In the NFL, NBA and even the MLB, fans and personalities alike are excited to see the pre-game 'fits' the players are sporting.
So, what is that one major difference? Fashion.
Players like Russell Westbrook, Odell Beckham Jr., Marcus Stroman, Bryce Harper and Cristiano Ronaldo have ruled the stadium tunnels and have had all eyes and cameras on them. This has allowed those players to maximize their marketing potential and, in some cases, even start their own brand and clothing line. They have made just as much of a statement and brand off the court or field through their style, as they have on it with their play.
(Courtesy of Oklahoma City Thunder Twitter Account)
However, the NHL has been the one sport without that excitement and personal expression by its players, it lacks the unpredictability and statement that makes the players arrival so iconic in other sports. It's also the only major professional sports league in North America with a "suit and tie" mandate in the CBA.
(Courtesy of Upscale Hype)
Through the NHL return to play, executives, staff, players and most importantly fans have had the opportunity to see the potential and the excitement that comes with affording players the freedom of choosing their pre-game outfits. It has given the NHL a breath of fresh and youthful air it desperately needed, while allowing players to express themselves.
The dress code in the NHL is archaic in so many ways that many believe the NHL lacks and has fallen behind in entertainment value amongst the other professional sports leagues. It's this 'old-school' mindset that hasn't allowed the players or the league to connect with a new demographic of fans or the younger generations. The potential for the NHL as a whole, and players specifically is immense. Not only could a shift to a relaxed dress code pump much needed entertainment, excitement and attention into the league, but it can also provide endless branding deals for the players themselves. Various brands either sending clothing or better yet, signing athletes to their brand can provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsement deals along with further exposure. If the NHL could begin to have its players signed to non-traditional brands, it can help market the league and further its reach and exposure. Ultimately, if this transition could benefit the players AND bring excitement and exposure to the NHL, why wouldn't they want it?
Some argue it's more so the owners who push the narrative of the traditional suit and tie mandate. Nonetheless, the league needs to take over and show these owners the positive impact it's having in other leagues and the potential growth for the NHL. Moreover, these owners should see how it can positively impact growth and further connection between the team’s players and fans. Not to mention the tremendous growth potential of a player’s personal brand will have on the team. Something as simple as a surge in a certain players jersey sale because of the impact his off-ice brand has had, due to his ability to diversify himself through his expression in fashion.
Simply put, fashion provides another avenue for players, brands and fans to connect and relate to one another. This is a mutually beneficial connection for all parties; the league, teams, players, brands and fans.
In recent years, the younger players coming through the league have slowly begun to shift away from the traditional and basic dark suit and tie, allowing their personalities to be on full display. Players like P.K. Subban and Auston Matthews among others have added some flare to their suits to feel more comfortable and express themselves with what they wear to games.
(Courtesy of NHL.com)
Through stretching the boundaries of the NHL dress code, these players have allowed themselves to secure magazine photoshoots, features and interviews with the likes of Sports Illustrated Fashionable 50 and GQ. This is something that would never have been seen a decade ago. The only athletes that would be featured in fashion magazines, or fashion photoshoots would be players from the NBA, NFL, MLB and the various Soccer leagues. The ability to market players or for players to market themselves as more than just a hockey player has been non-existent in the NHL until recently because of the lack of personal expression and freedom that the players feel they have. It may even be a factor of players and their agents not exploring new avenues and opportunities other leagues athletes have because it doesn't conform to the traditional endorsements or appearances NHL players have historically had. Similarly, brands and companies may neglect to reach out to NHL players because of the lack of diversification when it comes to their marketing and branding.
(Auston Matthews GQ Photoshoot)
(Courtesy of GQ)
There has been a shift in the world, especially with the modern-day player and the NHL can't afford to continue to fall behind the other professional leagues. Not only is it hurting themselves, but it's also a complete disservice to the players.
Through the way social media has transformed and continues to rule the world, new ways continue to present themselves for individuals and companies to market themselves and have an influence on millions of people daily.
It's time for the NHL to accept the world has changed, and the modern-day player and fan has changed. Allowing players to be themselves and express themselves how they please will bring excitement to the league and 'make hockey fun again'. It's long been considered this serious, no BS league that is all business. There's a reason the NBA, NFL and MLB are so much more entertaining for fans and it's because they allow the personalities of their players to show, which is what fans find entertaining and it's what allows fans to resonate and relate to their favourite athlete. It's also no coincidence why those leagues end up with the most media attention and marketing revenue. Through the display of the players personalities and the ability to really create their brand, a new demographic WILL be reached in the NHL which will contribute to further marketing revenue, market share and media attention more similar to the other leagues.
Just think about the endless marketing opportunities that exist; Players being on apparel companies website homepage, magazine covers, fashion show appearances, social media ads, brand collabs (Nike x AM34 collection? or H&M x Tyler Seguin?) and even players starting their own merchandise or clothing line (Akil Thomas has already started this trend) . Those are just some thoughts that scratch the surface of the potential opportunities that could open up to players, allowing them to further grow and establish themselves as a brand. On the flip side, think about how all these various opportunities increase the exposure of the NHL as a league by having their players involved in such a diverse portfolio of marketing.
Since the NHL resumed play in the bubble, fans have tuned into twitter day after day before the games to see what the players chose to wear into the arena. It's the same attention that for years the NBA, NFL and MLB have capitalized off of. Some of the players have taken full advantage of the opportunity to wear whatever they want, and their personality and fashion sense has shown. This has led to countless likes, retweets, shares and even posts by accounts and brands that never would have been there if these players wore the traditional suit and tie.
(Pictured Above: Top -Auston Matthews, Middle- Nikita Zadorov, Bottom- Mitch Marner)
(Courtesy of Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs Twitter Accounts)
The ability for players to do something as simple as choose what they wear to games has upside other than the marketing potential and excitement. NBA Star Rudy Gay described this upside in a nutshell, "Fashion and style builds confidence, and that confidence extends to everything you do. If I'm feeling good about an outfit, that means I'm feeling good about myself," Gay said. He continued, "That can translate to on-court confidence, as well."
If wearing a suit is ultimately what the player wants to wear, then perfect. However, giving them the freedom to style it up or down as they choose or wear something totally different opens up a world of opportunities that will also make them feel more comfortable in their attire, rather than feeling they have to conform to a dress code.
As we have had to learn and accept new ways of life in our ever-changing world, it's time for the NHL to recognize the time for change is now and they should embrace it. If they want the game to continue to grow, and the media and viewership surrounding it to take off rather than slow down, they need to loosen the 'old-school mentality' and allow the players to be themselves. It's proven successful in the other professional sports leagues and the potential it could have on the growth and attention of the league is immense. There are several untapped avenues in the NHL which has restricted it from completely resonating and entertaining the new generation and even current fans and its lack of 'trend' has caused it to fall behind the other professional sports leagues, especially in entertainment value.
So, let's spell this out:
1. Marketing potential
2. Ability for players to build their brand
3. Excitement and media attention
4. New demographic of fans
5. Further fan-player connection
6. Players comfort and expression of their personality
7. Diversification of sponsorships, endorsements, media, etc.
And so much more.
It almost makes too much sense for the NHL to make this a permanent transition, right?