Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fan Apparel - Then and Now

While looking through our new copy of Sports Illustrated The Hockey Book,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

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 patriotic 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 Turn Back the Clock 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 former teams, such as the Winnipeg Jets, 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 the Quebec Nordiques have sold more merchandise since moving to Denver, Colorado than they did in the 23 seasons they were located in Quebec.

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 doesn't!

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

Sabres fans 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

In the days before modern marketing, merchandising, product placement, movie tie-ins and endorsements, Bobby 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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