Keith Leach, director of NHL merchandise for Reebok, told Footwear News the company is uncertain what to expect from the lockout-shortened season, but believes loyal hockey fans will still support their teams with merchandise sales.
“We don’t know what 48 games and playoffs can add up to be,” he said, “but we generally have a really strong core fanatic hockey base, and we’re optimistic that now that we’re back on the ice, the fans will come back.”
Leach said some of the company’s biggest losses are the canceled Winter Classic and All-Star Game. Both, he noted, are major marketing and merchandise events, and production timelines mean that some, but not all, of the merchandise destined for the two games has already been produced.
According to SportsOneSource, sales of NHL-licensed goods were down 80 percent for the month of December, compared with the same year-ago period.
NHL-licensed product is Reebok’s largest apparel category. The Canton, Mass.-based company sells its styles not only through athletic distributors but through its own website and the NHL store in New York.
Leach said he is confident that fans will return to buying product both in the U.S. and hockey-obsessed Canadian markets.
“I would be very comfortable that Canada will up and run immediately, and we’ve had great momentum with the NHL in the U.S., and I would think we’ll continue to be successful in core markets,” he said. “We’ll see excitement, and [because of] the nature of the season with the reduced number of games, each are going to be so meaningful.”
Despite theories that the lockout could leave a bad taste in the mouth of fans and depress sales this year and into subsequent seasons, Leach said he remains optimistic.
As proof, he noted that sister company Adidas saw brisk business after a strike-shortened NBA season. “We’ve had a great year and great returns,” Leach said.