Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fan Apparel - Then and Now

While looking through our copy of "The Hockey Book" by Sports Illustrated, we were struck by the well known photo of Bobby Orr flying through the air in celebration of his overtime Stanley Cup winning goal in the 1970 finals.

The text of the book encourages us to "look closely at the photograph" to study the joy on Orr's face. We however, noticed not Orr, but the sea of spectators in the background also leaping for joy vertically, rather than horizontally like Orr. This difference in trajectory brings to light one unescapable fact.

There is not a Bruins logo of any kind visible in the crowd. Not one cap, one t-shirt, sweatshirt and certainly not a single jersey.

Orr 1970
Bobby Orr thrills the fans in Boston, 1970

It wasn't much different when national pride was on the line either. The first photo below is from Game 2 of the 1972 Summit Series when the Canadian professionals took on the best of the Soviet Union for the first time, certainly an occasion to show your national pride. Yet not one hint of a Canada hat, shirt or jersey.

Canada fans 1972 Toronto photo Canadafans1972Toronto.jpg

Even as the series moved to the Soviet Union, 3,000 Canadians made the trip to Moscow, and while they packed a few flags, only one child in the lower right can be spotted with a t-shirt with a red maple leaf on it. Again, no jerseys or caps anywhere to be found, as even the capitalist North Americans had yet to discover sports merchandising or even simply treating your country as a brand.

 photo CanadafansMoscow1972.jpg
Da, da Canada! Nyet, nyet Soviet!
but still not a single jersey to be found

Fast forward to the 1980 "Miracle on Ice". Again, look closely at the photograph. This, mind you, was taken at the Olympics during the single most nationalistic game of hockey ever held on the planet. Yet each and every person in the background of this shot bears not a single cap or sweatshirt emblazoned with even a simple "USA", much less a jersey in support of the Boys of Winter.

The fans look as if they dressed for dinner and a movie, not the meeting of "us" against "them" with our nation's pride and Olympic gold on the line. In amongst the winter sweaters and plaid flannel shirts, we're hard pressed to even find anyone who seems to have purposely dressed in either blue or red in support of the Americans, although we wouldn't recommend red for a game against the Soviet Union.

USA 1980
Aside from the flag, you wouldn't know this game
was even held in the United States by looking at the fans

Things started to change following the 1980 Olympics when jackets, t-shirts and sweatshirts began to be more heavily marketed, with much of the initial credit going to the sportswear brand Starter. Companies such as CCM and ProJoy had already began to make replica jerseys specifically for fans to wear to the games. We purchased our first jersey, a Minnesota North Stars jersey, in 1982 or 1983, a nice weight mesh jersey with quality sewn on logos. The problem was, our local sporting goods store used the wrong font for the number on the back, a battle we've been fighting for 30 years now!

The CCM replicas of the late 1980's and early 1990's were light weight, see through efforts that benefitted from having nothing else to compare to. Our 1991-92 NHL 75th anniversary season Turn Back the Clock Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, Boston and New York Rangers jerseys were prime examples of these undersized, semi-transparent replicas - that at the time we were thrilled to own.

It was the later arrival of the CCM 550 line of jerseys brought the quality of those formerly tissue paper thin jerseys up to an entirely new level. Soon, sales really began to take off with the rise in quality and acceptance of team jerseys being worn to games by fans to show their support for their favorite club - and things would never look the same in an NHL arena.

Now let's take a look at the fans of today. Fans in Calgary, Alberta and known around the league for "The "C" of Red". We believe that no other fans wear a greater percentage of jerseys to games than the fans of the Flames, with red obviously being the color of choice.

Flames fans
The Flames fan's "C" of Red

Hockey is alive and well in Washington, D. C. as the Captials fans "rock the red" for each home game. While the percentage of jerseys are less than those in Calgary, the amount of t-shirts and sweatshirts combined with the jerseys paint the arena with an equal amount of color.

Capitals fans
Capitals fans "Rock the Red". See if you can
spot the Penguins fans in attendance.

Capitals fans
Alexander Ovechkin leads the chorus of those wearing red

No other fans in the NHL travel as well as those of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they often arrive en masse in rival buildings sporting their traditional blue and white.

Maple Leafs fans
This photo is actually from a game in Boston

Even fans of teams that no longer exist wear the logos and colors of their beloved teams, such as the Minnesota North Stars, Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques. While we don't have the numbers to back up our suspicions, we would not be surprised to learn that more Quebec Nordiques merchandise has been sold since the franchise moved to Denver, Colorado than they did in the 23 seasons they were located in Quebec thanks to the rise of sports merchandising and marketing.

Nordiques fans
Nordiques fans invade the New York Islanders'
Nassau County Colosseum in December, 2010

During the playoffs, tradition in some cities dictates that all fans dress alike, a tradition began in 1985, first Calgary with the "C" of Red (also known as the "Sea of Red") and later in Winnipeg with the "White Out". The tradition has now also found it's way to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where the Flyers fans opt for orange as their color of choice.

Coyotes whiteout
A "White out" in Phoenix

Penguins whiteout
The Penguins version of the "White out"

Flyers orange
The Flyer faithful opt for orange - even if the team didn't!

Finally, it must be noted that while many, many fans in cities all across the NHL buy and wear t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies and jerseys of all kinds, not everyone choses to participate,

Sabres fans shirtless
Shirtless Buffalo Sabres fans at the 2008 Winter Classic

even though those sitting around them sometimes wish they would...

Lightning fans shirtless
Tampa Bay Lightning fans who
"gotta support the team" opt for body paint instead

Oilers fans who are no doubt lubricated also
opt for the "body paint jersey" approach

With clearly plenty of money on the line with the higher prices charged these days for replica and especially retail authentic jerseys, it's disappointing and baffling how Nike in particular cannot seem to be bothered with making the current 2014 Winter Olympic jerseys available in anything other than the most basic choices. A check of River City Sports in Winnipeg and Ice Jerseys in Montreal shows only the three Canada and red Russia jerseys for sale, while one has to really search to even be able to buy the United States jerseys!

Apparently gone are the days when Nike at least made the colored road jerseys from each team for retail with the more popular nations occasionally in the home white, such as in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics when even a Belarus jersey was yours for the asking. The supply began to tighten up in 2006 with the introduction of the new Nike Swift styles and by 2010 if you didn't have your jersey ordered by the time the games started, you considered yourself extremely fortunate to find anything other than a Canada or US jersey, and if by chance you were actually able to track down something as obscure as Norway, that was quite an accomplishment. It appears that this time around, Nike has all but turned it's back on the international jersey market, leaving fans admire their new favorite style on TV, but not in their closet. Any die-hard Los Angeles Kings fan hoping to stand out from the crowd by wearing an Anze Kopitar Slovenia jersey is going to be disappointed.

Today's featured jersey is a 1969-70 Boston Bruins Bobby Orr jersey, the style worn while he was flying through the air like Superman in 1970, which shows how much things have changed in the world of sports merchandising.

At the time Orr scored his famous overtime Stanley Cup winning goal, no such thing existed for fans and collectors to buy, as if there even was such a thing as a memorabilia collector back then.

While jerseys had become available for sale to fans by the late 1980's, things changed in a dramatic way with the arrival of the auction site ebay in 1995. Fans  could now list their old jerseys they no longer needed, giving fans and collectors a chance to buy things no longer commercially available.

One trend in particular was the prices being paid for some of the early, lower quality jerseys from defunct clubs such as the Minnesota North Stars, Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques. These original jerseys often reached triple digits for the scarce examples, particularly in the larger sizes, as the older ones ran a size smaller than the current CCM 550's of the day and more of the smallest ones were originally unsold and more readily available now that there was a chance to market them.

Eventually, sensing an opportunity was at hand, CCM introduced "The Vintage Line", reprising long out of production styles which were now up to modern quality standards, as well as making some pre-1980 jersey styles available for the first time ever, such as today's featured Orr Bruins style.

The idea was a hit, as a brand new, available on demand CCM Vintage Line replica jersey was around $80, some 20% less than some of the prices being paid for the semi-transparent, quasi-accurate original releases with the often undersized main crests. There were also authentic model CCM 6100 jerseys, the same as worn on the ice by current NHLers, complete with fight straps for those seeking the most authentic jersey possible, something never before available for the vintage styles.

With the first group of a dozen or so Vintage Line jerseys selling very well, the following year saw a new selection made available, again reprising old styles that were ebay favorites or past jerseys of highly collected players of the day, such as All-Star jerseys worn by Wayne Gretzky and Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux jerseys from the Penguins back to back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. For several years CCM continued to produce a new group of jerseys each year, which were quickly snapped up by those hungry for the older styles which brought back so many great memories, such as your favorite player flying through the air in celebration of winning a Stanley Cup 30 years ago.

 photo BostonBruins69-70F.jpg
 photo BostonBruins69-70B.jpg

In the days before modern marketing, merchandising, product placement, movie tie-ins and endorsements, Orr scores the game winning goal in the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals, and there's not a single ad on the dasher boards or souvenir shirt, cap or jersey to be found.

Next is the final minute of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" between the United States and Soviet Union, which, if held today, would generate $1,000,000 in retail sales at the arena.

Here is footage of Calgary's Sea of Red.

White outs in Winnipeg, later Phoenix and more recently Pittsburgh.

Finally, this kid's got it all covered, the jersey and the shirtless/body paint angle.

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