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Worn to Win
The new, lighter uniforms—tested by scientists!—are a smart move. They'll benefit the players and generate revenue
SIDNEY CROSBY will still put his pants on one leg at a time, only in 2007--08 the Penguins star won't be putting on his uniform but instead a "uniform system." That's what Reebok calls the threads that were unveiled this week at the All-Star Game and will be worn throughout the league next season. The "system" designation lends a white-lab-coat air of empiricism to the long-anticipated rollout of the new duds. Reebok and the NHL have put out all kinds of impressive data to reinforce the notion: Compared with the jerseys currently used, the new ones are 14% lighter at the start of the game, 25% lighter at the end because they don't absorb as much moisture, 10% cooler and, according to wind-tunnel research performed by MIT's redoubtable science guys, 9% more aerodynamic. All of this means that Canadiens right wing Alexei Kovalev should gain the blue line even faster than he does now before still hanging on to the puck 89% longer than necessary.
Juxtaposed with some of the spectacularly awful marketing ideas of recent decades—Clairol's Touch of Yoghurt shampoo in the '70s, new Coke in the '80s, the Earring Magic Ken doll in the '90s, the NBA's new basketball this season—the "uniform system" shouldn't move the needle on the what-were-they-thinking? scale even 3%. The Reebok uniforms (more form-fitting than the current models and made of different synthetic fibers) are bulletproof, metaphorically if not scientifically, because unlike the unlamented synthetic Spalding basketball, there was more player input during the design process, which should keep carping to a minimum.
Another percentage to keep in mind is the 54% of gross revenues players get under the collective bargaining agreement. Certainly the evolution from wood to carbon microfiber sticks and the move from deer-hair-stuffed goalie pads to lighter materials have had a greater impact on the actual game than a "uniform system" ever will, but the new uniforms (76% more water-repellent) represent a smart economic move. The league will be able to tap demand for new jerseys (and some logo redesigns that are expected next fall) and give the old ones a whiff of retro chic. This is not about hockey fashion—most owners couldn't tell designer Stella McCartney from Flames winger Darren McCarty—but money.
The sleeker hockey sweaters, of course, are also about freshening up the league's image, something the NHL has pondered almost as much as changing the game since the 2004--05 lockout. (The NHL and Reebok initially hoped to have the new uniforms ready in time for the postlockout return 16 months ago.) In the summer of 2004, in anticipation of a shutdown, the NHL thought outside the penalty box far enough to hire IDEO, the California-based industrial-design giant that developed Apple's first mouse, to get fresh ideas on how to present the game differently, including an increased focus on players.
For a league that for decades had been so stolid in its thinking it could have painted the red line beige, new uniforms are part of an approach that is now no-holds-barred. Indeed, Brian Jennings, NHL vice-president of consumer products, says the tighter-fitting sweaters will discourage holding, though he didn't venture a percentage.
ONLY AT SI.COM Find a gallery of the best and worst All-Star uniforms from years past.