The NHL has signed a deal with Fanatics, the nation's largest online seller of licensed sports apparel, giving the company the exclusive right to make NHL fan-replica jerseys as well as all quick-turnaround products, including official Stanley Cup-champion locker room apparel.
How much Fanatics pays the league for the deal, which was signed Wednesday and will start next season, is unknown, but sources say the contract is for 16 years.
The relationship provides a window into the future of sports retail. A fan will now order a jersey on Fanatics or one of its affiliates, including the official online store of any of the major sports leagues. That jersey will then be made and shipped by the same company. The ability to make the apparel on the spot also means that wait times on popular player jerseys, most recently Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews, can be shorter.
The deal also allows Fanatics to dream up a design to commemorate something that just happened on the ice, market it immediately, make it and ship it out quickly.
Fanatics officials say they plan to improve the appearance of jerseys. Because the jerseys looked too bulky for fans who didn't wear pads under them, the company has created a stretch fabric that fits better. The jersey is adjusted depending on size and gender. Fanatics will also add sizes -- up to 5XL for men and an extra-small option for women.
A Fanatics logo will be on the bottom of the jerseys, while the Adidas logo, which will be on NHL on-ice jerseys starting next year, will not appear on the replica jerseys. The deal allows Adidas, whose new seven-year deal starts next season, to get the branding benefits on the jersey exterior on the players but not have to worry about making jerseys for fans -- which requires a significant infrastructure investment.
The deal comes on the heels of Fanatics' signing a similar deal with Major League Baseball that, according to sources, will allow the company to become the exclusive jersey retailer starting in 2020, when Under Armour will take over as the brand displayed on players' uniforms.