NEW YORK — Hockey, the sport of cross-checking and elbow shots, is no longer just a man’s game.
With women said to represent about 40 percent of the fans, the National Hockey League, in a licensing agreement with Reebok, will launch its most complete line of women’s T-shirts, jackets and, yes, even pink jerseys.
“I think there will be a lot of demand because there already was before,” said Nirva Milford, an NHL spokeswoman. “Teams have been improvising because there was no women’s line available to them. They would throw their logo on generic items to meet the high demand for women’s pieces before these products came out.”
Reebok’s line of 22 pieces for the NHL will be available in September, before the NHL’s season starts Oct. 4, and will be carried at team stores, nhl.com and sporting goods chains.
The collection offers a range of fitted T-shirts and fleece zip-up sweatsuits in team colors, as well as female-favored colors and designs, as opposed to limiting options only to each team’s colors and logo. The so-called pink jersey is available for each team with the name in white lettering, void of team logo or colors. The suggested retail price is about $17 for basic T-shirts, $50 for decorated jerseys and $200 for jackets. Reebok would not release wholesale prices.
“When we embarked on this about five years ago, we miscalculated the attention to detail in the cut and the make that women demand,” said Brian Jennings, NHL senior vice president of consumer products marketing. “This line is more than just pinks and pastels. These are sophisticated fans, and we have made sophisticated products for them. ”
The NHL predicted women’s apparel sales will eventually make up more than 10 percent of business. The NHL was doing $1.5 billion annually in retail sales before the 2004-2005 strike, and league representatives expect to regain those figures this year.
Reebok acquired CCM, a Canadian-based company whose roots are in equipping hockey leagues, in 2004, and that marriage began Reebok’s work on NHL apparel. Fall 2006 is its most complete women’s line for the NHL.
“The CCM brand [is] a world-leading hockey manufacturer, but really more on the equipment side,” said Greg Grauel, vice president of merchandising and licensed apparel at Reebok. “They weren’t as up to speed on the apparel end as we are in Reebok. When we combined, we immediately focused on starting men’s and women’s product lines.”
New Era Caps is also coming out with a line of women’s NHL hats this fall. The caps, which will wholesale from $9 to $12, are redesigned to specifically fit a woman’s head and to incorporate more fashion elements, like shine and rhinestones.
“If you look back historically at the market, what they did was take a men’s cap and offered it in pink,” said Barbara Noyes, New Era’s business unit director for women’s and children’s products. “But that would be two sizes too big for the average woman’s head.”
The NHL has been producing a limited line of women’s products for about five years. The league focused primarily on marketing one product to women — a female-fitting jersey unveiled in 2003. Teams were left to create their own products to meet their individual market demands. Based on past sales of improvised women’s products, Milford predicted that New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Edmonton, Toronto, Los Angeles and Anaheim, Calif., will be important markets for the new line.
Milford said she thinks the big question will be whether women will follow the trend of their male counterparts and personalize their jerseys with player names. “I think they will,” Milford said. “Women favor certain players…for various reasons.”