October 30, 2009
The NHL's retail relationship with female hockey fans hasn't exactly been storybook over the last few years.
There was the flap over the League's $325 bedazzled purse. There was outcry over the Alyssa Milano-designed hockey fashions that led one blogger to opine that the "R&D for this line [was done] in a brothel." Mention a pink jersey to a lady puckhead, and you're going to get a strong reaction either positively or (mostly) negatively.
But in all of those cases, the NHL was making an effort to reach out to an increasingly large portion of its consumer fan base; which makes the utter neglect of that fan base in one of the League's most profit-driven initiatives so baffling.
"I realize that the NHL is an ol' boys club, but this blatant sexist marketing is utterly outrageous to me," wrote "walkinvisible" [name withheld upon request], a female hockey fan who blogs at www.hitthepost.ca.
Her outrage? It's over the fact that many teams in the NHL's third jersey program completely ignore female fans; and she's fighting the system over it.
There are roughly 23 teams in the NHL today that have some form of alternate sweater, whether it's a traditional "third jersey" worn on specific nights during the season or part of a "retro jersey" program, like the Calgary Flames' 30th anniversary frocks.
The fight for "walkinvisible" has been in Calgary, where she's raised hell over a lack of female-cut jerseys before, with startling success. It's something she mentioned in a letter to team president Ken King over the third-jersey flap, reprinted below:
"In the post-lockout era, the NHL and Reebok discontinued the CCM ladies-cut jersey and produced, instead, a PINK women's jersey for all thirty NHL clubs, much to my displeasure (as seen below in my letter to the editor, printed in the hockey news on October 16, 2006):
"This issue was resolved not long after the printing of that edition, when the NHL and Reebok started producing home jerseys in ladies' sizes league-wide, though I've recently discovered a new grievance.
"As I mention in The Hockey News letter above, I am a female hockey fan; I come from a long-time season ticket holding family, I like talking stats with my pals, I'm currently involved in four hockey pools, and I'm hugely interested in the history of the game, scouting, strategies and player pros and cons. To be offered an "ICE FLIRT" and "BE LUV'D" fashion jersey (what I refer to as "the puck bunny fashion line") is beyond insulting.
"My questions to you are regarding this year's retro-throwback ("vintage") Flames' third jersey:
"Why would a team go through all of the pomp and circumstance to design, hold secret, announce and release a jersey of any sort if they're subsequently only going to offer it to HALF of their fanbase?
"I find it hard to believe that it wouldn't be cost-effective (if not PROFITABLE) for the NHL/RBK to manufacture teams' alternate jerseys in a ladies' cut, especially for large-market teams like the Flames?
"Will these EVER be available for purchase?
"I thank you kindly in advance for your time,
As of Wednesday, she hadn't heard from the NHL or the Flames about the complaint. She also did a bit of investigation on her own, via Hit The Post:
I thought I'd phone over to the Flames' Fan Attic at Northhill Mall and had a REALLY nice chat with Blaine -- MASSIVE shoutout to that guy -- who says that they don't really sell a lot of the pink jerseys for women, and most ladies that come in to buy a pink one will actually end up leaving with a red one. He also inquired up the proverbial food chain if the retro-throwback would ever be available in women sizes, and the answer was, quite simply: not likely... apparently the powers-that-be are "in talks" to "possibly" bring it in, based on the number of requests, but it definitely wouldn't be until after x-mas.... tsk tsk tsk... what a waste of prime moneymaking weeks... for SHAME.
But then there are the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Dallas Stars and many other teams that don't offer them on the Shop NHL Web site. It's baffling that a female Minnesota Wild fan can get this on the team's Shop NHL site but not this in a women's cut.
This might all seem like quite a mountainous molehill, but it speaks directly to the problems many female fans have had with the League's marketing approach. Creating a female-cut version of a third jersey seems like such a fundamentally sound decision -- the jerseys are usually more visually striking, in a fashion sense, than the usual gear -- that it was rather stunning to discover that they aren't available.
Is it possible that women's cut jerseys are available off the Web, or that they're on the way? Sure. But for now, it's either a pitiful oversight or, worse, an intentional decision not to tailor these jerseys for female fans in the same way that traditional home jerseys are; either way, it needs to be rectified by the teams that aren't currently offering them.
UPDATE: Ryan Stanzel, media relations for the Wild, checks in over email --
Just wanted to let you know the Wild has women's cut Wild 3rd green jerseys available (in addition to red, and pink) at all our local Hockey Lodge locations in the Twin Cities, or by phone at 651-726-8250 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Like we said: It's possible these jerseys are being made and are available locally (Flames excluded). So what's the excuse for the NHL not having them available on its online shop?