Prior to the 2008 Winter Classic, Reebok had a feeling that their products for the event would sell well, but no one expected what would happen when the Pittsburgh Penguins stepped out on the ice in powder blue jerseys. Those jerseys became the best-selling NHL product, and there’s been no looking back since. The NHL and Reebok hit the jackpot.
“When Pittsburgh came out in Buffalo with their powder blue jerseys, that went on to be the best-selling jersey for the year — not just for Pittsburgh, but for all teams, so it was an unbelievable success,” said Simon Drouin, Reebok’s director of sales for the NHL.
The vintage and retro looks the Red Wings and Blackhawks sported at last year’s Winter Classic were also a huge hit, as jerseys were flying off the shelves as well.
“Last year in Chicago, you had these very vintage-looking designs and it was absolutely spectacular because it was such a cool looking jersey that no one had,” Drouin said.
In both of the previous years, Reebok virtually sold out of all Winter Classic merchandise. This season, sales are even better — they are up 15 percent, and while Drouin and his staff expected that, they didn’t expect the products to fly off the shelves so quickly.
“We’ve seen it trending well from the Winter Classic in Buffalo to now, so we knew the sales would be where they are,” Drouin said. “We’re just more surprised at how quickly they went off the shelves.”
This year, Reebok delivered products earlier to retailers, and as a result, sales of Bruins merchandise are selling at a pace that will match, if not exceed, sales for the past two years. In fact, 10 days before the event, the product was disappearing at retail locations. The most popular items are Bruins player name and number replica tees (Milan Lucic‘s No. 17 is the most popular), center ice player and goalie knit hats, and Bruins jerseys.
“Having the event and location announced earlier than 2008 and 2009 has really helped preparation and sales,” Drouin said. “That extra time also helped us tremendously in terms of planning and design.”
Almost immediately after the 2010 Winter Classic was announced, Reebok and the two teams — the Flyers as well as the Bruins — went to work on designing the jerseys and other products for the game.
Keith Leach, the Reebok product manager for the NHL, was a point man in the operation. As he told NESN.com, the Bruins’ Winter Classic jersey is a celebration of the team’s history.
“The throwback, vintage retro colors helped the jersey become so unique, and in the case of the Bruins, we have what we call fusion,” Leach said. “It’s got the components of the team’s history and that’s the advantage of working with teams that have a pretty deep history. You’re able to integrate components of their history and create a jersey that was never worn at one point in time but is a fusion of multiple eras.”
Leach explained that each color in the jersey represents an era in Bruins history.
“Brown was the first color the Bruins ever wore, so we brought that back in,” Leach said. “The B that you see in there is a spoked B that was only worn in 1949 as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Bruins and was only worn one year. So bringing that spoked B back, that allows you to put something the fans haven’t seen on not only the jersey, but the T-shirts, the hats, the toques — and [that] creates a buzz.
“The gold base of the jersey is a big part of their history in the sixties, and then implementing that and then some of the seventies and that retro feel where they were very successful is a very important part as well.”
For Leach, Reebok, the Bruins and the NHL, this event served as a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the retro fad while celebrating the history of the team and the roots of hockey.
“The ability to combine all those eras and create that retro feel relates to what this game is all about because it brings you back through a team’s history and its roots,” Leach said. “It also trends well with what’s going on in the apparel industry — what we call a lifestyle trend — as a whole right now, because people are looking for that retro, vintage, washed out and worn, kind of raw edge.”
Most retail stores are currently out of the top Winter Classic products, but according to Leach and Drouin, they will be restocked soon and again after the Winter Classic. NHL.com still has products available.
NESN.com’s James Murphy will answer one Winter Classic question every day leading up to the event.
Thursday, Dec. 24: Where will the 2011 Winter Classic be held?
Saturday, Dec. 26: What are Cam Neely‘s thoughts heading into the game?
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