The National Hockey League or NHL is currently home to 30 teams spread throughout the United States and Canada. Having expanded from a core of only 6 teams in 1967, today the league is flourishing and boasts annual revenues of over $3 billion. A sizable portion of that income is generated by licensed merchandise in the form of clothing and all kinds of memorabilia, including home and office supplies, toys, jewelry, and just about anything else imaginable. There are also alternative sources selling unlicensed goods. Serious fans have many options when it comes to satisfying their need for supporting and promoting their team.
This guide will provide information about where to find great NHL gear, both officially licensed and independently produced, and where to find personalized professional hockey apparel. It will also discuss issues related to buying unlicensed products. The guide also includes a section on finding specific items on eBay.
Licensed vs. Unlicensed
Technically, it is illegal for any company or individual merchant to sell any product that displays a copyrighted name, trademark, logo, image, etc. without the permission of the source, in this case an individual hockey team or the NHL. These teams and the league will never give unlicensed permission, as that would undermine the value of the relatively expensive licenses they sell to legitimate manufacturers. The problem for the buyer is that there isn’t always an easy way to be sure that the item that they’re looking to buy has been officially licensed. Seldom will the merchant who is pedaling counterfeit materials be forthcoming enough to inform the buyer that the items are illegal.
What is legal and quite readily available, are t-shirts for example, that make fun of a sports entity or individual player, or are in some other way irreverent or even vulgar. This is essentially nothing more than an exercise of free speech, a right guaranteed by the first amendment. Products of this nature are readily available, especially online from individuals and companies that can easily target a specialized market.
Since it is not technically illegal to purchase unlicensed NHL or any other sports apparel and souvenirs for personal use, end users only have to be concerned that the quality may not always be the best. The NHL will not be likely to permit the use of its logo on inferior materials, as that might convey that the league itself is in some way substandard.
The bottom line is, those who want legitimate, top quality merchandise should ensure the article is officially sanctioned by the NHL, one of its teams, or approved sponsors. It may cost a little more, but the buyer is assured that the apparel or souvenirs is legitimate and up to NHL specifications.
There are many sources for NHL fan clothing. Depending upon physical location, most towns offer some apparel at the local sporting goods store, department store, or big-box outlet. Expect the nearest franchise to be the most heavily stocked in any store. In some cities, such as New York City where there are three franchises within a relatively short distance of each other (the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, the New Jersey Devils) the choices may be quite varied. On the other hand, don’t expect to find a great deal of Montreal Canadien gear in Vancouver.
Online venues such as eBay will market apparel based upon demand. It is relatively easy to find just about anything from these online sources. The problem here is that it is also more likely that a vendor will be offering unlicensed products.
The following chart will help identify the differences:
Online Authentic NHL
Online Unlicensed Replicas
A bit below local store price
The price will be considerably less
Polyester mesh jerseys, professionally tagged
Solid cotton or other blended fabric, cheaply tagged
Stitched and embroidered
Heat applied decal
Name, Number, Colors
Accurate, spelled correctly, with true colors
Different front and back, misspelled, colors may be fading
Besides online vendors, kiosks near a hockey stadium are notorious for presenting knock-off products as NHL-licensed apparel. Take a good look before buying to be assured that the item is as represented. If there is even the slightest imperfection, it is probably an unlicensed version.
A must-have item for all diehard NHL fans is a jersey from their favorite team. Since the name of the player is a prominent aspect of any jersey, it will often have a player’s name and number on the back, just like the real thing. Obviously, there is some risk that a fan will spend over a hundred dollars for a licensed, authentic player jersey only to see the player traded to another team a month later. That can also be good news as the jersey may be worth more down the road, especially if the player goes on to have a Hall of Fame career. Apparel from the earlier team is likely to appreciate in value.
The long-term value can really escalate if the player named on the jersey has signed it. Often, younger fans can get an autograph by waiting outside the player’s dressing room after a game. Those who live in the team’s home city can attend regularly scheduled charitable events where the player is available to sign any memorabilia. Players will usually agree to sign a jersey mailed to them, providing there is an easily returnable postage paid package included. And, it’s a good idea to send a sharp permanent marker as well.
Most fans however, are not buying a jersey as as investment, but as an article of clothing to wear to games, sports bars, and as casual dress. Given those circumstances, if the jersey is licensed and produced by Reebok, the only currently licensed NHL producer of jerseys, it will last many years. If it isn’t quite up to snuff and has a tag from Nike, COHO, CCM, or another company, expect the price to be quite a bit lower and to have a reduced wearing life, as it is undoubtedly an unlicensed hockey jersey.
Perfect for those "bad hair" days or just puttering around the house, fan hats are far more common than jerseys. They are quite a bit less expensive as well. Just like jerseys, the authentic licensed versions will be priced higher than the unlicensed replicas. New Era, Reebok, Zephyr, or Mitchell and Ness currently produce the licensed hats. Unfortunately, most of the unlicensed hats also have one of those identifying tags on them. However, the differences are usually quite apparent with careful scrutiny. Look for off center tags, poor color resolution, and sizes that are not accurate.
Other NHL Apparel
There is an entire world of other clothing options for NHL fans, but it takes some searching. For example, there are women’s sweatpants, t-shirts, dog jackets, wrist and head sweatbands, kids pajamas, shorts, and more. There are even NHL outfits for Barbie and Ken dolls.
At this level, authenticity may become a superficial factor with little relevance. These types of items are more difficult to find and a trip to the local mall may end in disappointment. Try some of the online options and pay extra for the expedited shipping when sooner is better than later. Online prices with shipping are often less than local store prices and will be delivered within a couple days.
Vintage NHL Apparel
There are two varieties of vintage clothing, and it’s important to recognize the differences. There is the original item, generally a jersey that was actually made during the era it represents. And, there is the newly manufactured period or "throwback" designs that current players will wear for ceremonial and commemorative games. Depending upon the condition, the player represented, and the production year of the actual vintage piece, it may be worth considerably more than when it was new. Authenticated by a third party with a certificate of authentication (COA), some of these vintage jerseys can reach stratospheric prices. Bobby Orr’s rookie jersey, one of only three that he wore the entire season, sold in 2010 for $168,000. Paul Henderson’s 1972 Summit Series jersey from the Canada victory over the Soviet Union, sold for $1.27 million in 2010. Henderson scored the winning goal in three of the seven games played, including the decisive "Game 7."
Realistically, the vintage jerseys most people would be interested in are readily available at various online retail and auction sites. Prices will vary depending upon quality, official licensing, and rarity. These are the best places to look simply because of the extremely large selection.
Like any other popular sport, there is no shortage of possibilities on the souvenir front. The first items that come to most people’s minds when asked to name popular souvenirs might are pennants, bobbleheads, office supply items, wallets, and the like. For those who are more prone to think outside the box, there is the NHL toasterthat will "brand" a piece of bread with the team’s logo. There are earrings available for every team in the league. There are slippers and sneakers representing all the teams as well. Or, how about an NHL license plate frame? A standard web search will yield an impressive range of licensed logo and team items.
Custom NHL Apparel and Souvenirs
One great way to impress friends and family is to order customized accessories and clothing as a gift or just for personal use. It is one thing to have a Gretzky jersey to wear to the game. It is quite another when a son or daughter can sport a jersey with his or her own last name on it. Personalized jerseys and many other items are available from online sites like eBay and many other sources.
Other ideas include key chains, necklaces, beer mugs, and pet ID tags. Custom orders generally take longer to manufacture, so it’s best to allow a couple weeks lead time.
Find NHL Apparel and Souvenirs on eBay
Many fans looking online for NHL merchandise begin at eBay. From the homepage, click on the Sporting Goods category. Then go to Team Sports and from there you can click on Ice and Roller Hockey. Take a few minutes to look through the large array of options available. Navigation is sensibly presented and simple to follow.
If you already know what specific item you want to find, just enter it into to keyword search feature bar at the top of any eBay page. For instance, enter NHL video games into to search field and click Search. Since there are thousands of results just on eBay, you may want to specify the genre, condition, platform, and/or price to work the list down to a manageable size. eBay ’ s Search Tips are there as well if you need some help.
Also try eBay Stores to get another perspective on where to find everything. Remember to ask for a certificate of authenticity for any signed article or the more expensive vintage items. You can get more details just by clicking on Contact Seller link in their profile. Spend a few minutes reading the feedback from previous buyers as well.
NHL fans are pretty particular when it comes to apparel and souvenirs. They know what’s available and will probably be able to tell whether it is authentic or a replica. The real thing will cost more, but will probably be worth it in the long run. Certainly for kids or when buying for personal use, oftentimes an inexpensive, unlicensed item will work just fine. Be sure to allow plenty of lead time for personalized gifts and take the time to peruse all of the options. Remember, for the truly serious fan, there is no such thing as too much NHL apparel and souvenirs