Adidas has let apparel deals with the NFL and NBA slip out of its hands in recent years, ceding millions of dollars in annual athletic gear sales to top rival Nike, but the German company is keeping a firm grasp on its partnership with the NHL. On Tuesday Adidas announced a new seven-year pact to be the official supplier of licensed apparel for the pro hockey league.
The partnership will no longer be handled by Reebok, which has supplied gear to the NHL since 2005 and was acquired by Adidas for $3.8 billion in early 2006. Instead, the National Hockey League’s gear will be adorned with the Adidas logo and name. Reebok also previously made apparel for the NFL and NBA, but it lost those contracts in 2012 and 2017, respectively.
“People might ask, ‘What’s the deal with Reebok?'” Adidas North America president Mark King asked in a media presentation with the NHL Tuesday. “Well in 2010, the Reebok brand made a pivot out of sport and into fitness.” In other words, Reebok is now focused on the exercise crowd, zeroing in on athletes who participate in CrossFit, Spartan Races, and other “social fitness sports.”
Speculation has been running that Adidas could sell off the Reebok brand, which has faced great challenges in the U.S. as rivals like Nike (NKE) and Under Armour (UA) outperform. But chief executive Herbert Hainer has reportedly said that Adidas has no plans for a sale.
Terms of the NHL deal weren’t disclosed, though Adidas will become the official supplier beginning in the 2017-2018 season. King said the agreement further highlights Adidas’s dedication to the sport of hockey, where it also competes as an equipment supplier with the CCM brand, which makes sticks, skates, and gloves.
“We are really poised to be able to help the NHL and the sport of hockey be exposed around the world,” King added.
The top question on reporters’ minds during Tuesday’s media presentation was if ads would be featured on NHL apparel. While it is rumored that Adidas could pay double the reported $35 million it pays NHL annually to be its exclusive apparel maker, Sports Illustrated previously wrote that the league could generate $120 million annually from corporate sponsors placing logos on jerseys.
“You probably have to drag me kicking and screaming, and it is something we are not considering right now,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was asked the question several times. But NHL executives left the door open for potential ads on jerseys down the road.
“It would take a lot, a lot, a lot of money to do,” Bettman said. He reluctantly admitted that even with this new Adidas deal in place, the league reserves the right to put ads on jerseys if it wishes.