by Jas Faulkner, contributing editor
The images beamed from the other side of the globe (or at least halfway there) make it seem like Planet Hockey is a reality. as the NHL continues in a state of suspended animation, in a place remote to many of us, Evgeni Malkin is a the third star of the league and Ovechkin and Rinne are team mates. For an estimated 42 million people who watch at home or attend the games during the season, it’s business as usual. According sales figures from two of the leading distributors of fan apparel in Russia, sales are as good as they’ve always been. While there is degree of enthusiasm for the new arrivals from the West and some initial spikes in items featuring the likenesses, names, and numbers of international celebrities such as Malkin and Ovechkin, there is still a preference for longtime fan favourites.
The corresponding slump on the NHL’s stomping grounds may indicate the need for an evolution of fan gear in order to stay current with a market share that promises to widen once operations resume and interest migrates both ways as the fanbases of both leagues experience some cross-pollination. Will the average fan in Minsk or Prague want a Deluxe Collapsible Koozie? Will fans in Nashville or Dallas think club scarves are the next must-have accessory? Manufacturers and distributors on both sides of the globe will be paying attention as the stronger fan gear sales figures shift with the motley fortunes of the NHLPA.
Speaking of Club Scarves…
Many NHL fans got their first glimpse of club scarves under the worst of circumstances. The memorials altars set up for those who lost their lives in the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv plane crash were draped with club scarves and many who attended tributes wore them in honour of the team. Under the circumstances, the colourful, bannerlike scarves were easy to gloss over as an integral part of fangear.
In fact, scarves have been a tradition in Eurpoean traditional sports for quite some time. The first fans to adopt the knitted scarves were fans of football (the round kind, not the NFL) who used them to show support for their favorite teams. The scarves served double-duty as they provided a degree of warmth in the stands and could then be unfurled and held up or waved to show support. As this custom spread, hockey clubs began offering the scarves as part of their fangear line. Now, seeing a game in Eastern Europe without a crowd holding up their scarves while they cheer would be as unlikely as seeing a football game without at least one John 3:16 sign waving in the stands.
Not Quite What We Expected
Two seasons ago, Old Time Hockey produced a series of Footballer Club-style scarves for pro shop markets.The good was that these scarves were beautifully executed pieces of clothing and at the exorbitant arena prices demanded in most arenas, they were very well made. The tube loomed scarves (meaning they were essentially a long knitted tube that was then stitched flat at each end) were warm and a generously proportioned five feet long. The bad? The colours were…off. Red Wings fans were treated to green scarves. The ones gracing the walls of the pro shop at Bridgestone had the Smilodon logo right, but would have been a perfect accessory for someone wearing a third jersey for Pittsburgh.
Maybe next season, when the NHL is back in full force and the Russians who have developed a taste for Pekka and Zdeno and Pavel and Jumbo Joe make the the trip to the USA to see what hockey is like over here. Curious about our fangear, they’ll venture into the pro shops and hopefully, they’ll see beautiful scarves to take back home and show their friends as they wait for the puck to drop.