Earlier this week, sports apparel manufacturing giant Adidas, currently the contracted producer of National Hockey League jerseys as well as the exclusive kit producers of international soccer powerhouses Manchester United FC, AFC Ajax, and Juventus FC, became the target of a false advertising lawsuit in the state of Florida (from ‘Adidas NHL Jersey Lawsuit Claims ‘Authentic’ is Anything But’ Michael McCann/Eben Novy-Williams. Sportico. 20/04/2022). In the 20-page proposal, the plaintiff alleges that the company knowingly misrepresented what it constitutes as “authentic” apparel, specifically as it relates to the quality of NHL jerseys.
The lawsuit claims that Adidas has relied on a policy of “omissions, ambiguities, half-truths, [and] deceptive representations” in order to market authentic jerseys that are indeed not authentic. While the suit itself is still being argued in the courts, it belies the ever-present issues fans have had finding authentic apparel that goes back years.
Adidas Lawsuit a Continuation of What Fans Already Encounter with Replica Purchases
Regardless of the final ruling in the Adidas lawsuit, it highlights the experience of many fans attempting to buy jerseys and other items on the secondary market. The NHL leased the production of “replica” jerseys to Fanatics in 2016, agreeing to a historic 16-year deal that runs until 2032. While it was initially heralded as a breakthrough that would allow greater access to the best players’ jerseys and cut down on production time, the company has since come under fire for what some deem shoddy craftsmanship and a comparatively remarkable level of inconsistency.
Fanatics quality, argues AJ Strong of TealTown USA, is single-handedly dragging down the replica jersey and apparel market. The iron-on logo, name, and number began fading from a player t-shirt after one wash. The brand also has no system for ensuring the accuracy of the product, Strong says, noting that they have sold San Jose Sharks t-shirts in completely different shades of teal. Quality issues such as these are not limited to NHL products. In fact, Fanatics has drawn the ire of so many fans there is now a Twitter account with hundreds of followers devoted to publicizing fans’ discontent with the brand. Orders have been cancelled, shirts and sweaters missized, logos and wordmarks misprinted, and fans have had to wait months to receive orders.
Adidas Intentionally Obscuring True Nature of Product With Vague, Lucid Terms
The structure of the NHL’s branding deal with Adidas allows the former to produce the jerseys worn on-ice by NHL players as well as the “authentic” jerseys sold in stores and online. It is, however, the terminology that the lawsuit’s plaintiff took issue with. The vague terminology used by sportswear companies has been highlighted before, with authorized third-party sellers like Dick’s Sporting Goods providing guides for fans and defining what the terms mean.
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According to the glossary, “authentic” means “the on-ice apparel worn by your favourite professional team”, whereas “official” jerseys are “great budget choice for fans wanting a quality sweater fit for the bleachers” and often are poorer in quality. “Official” jerseys are often “a lighter fabric with less tech options.”
The lowest-tier jerseys are classed as “replicas” which “use[s] lesser grade fabrics and typically comes in a looser fit.” The plaintiff asserts the differences between Adidas jerseys one can purchase online and those worn by NHL players lies in the material, stitching, and construction of the jerseys themselves. Mainly, the supposedly authentic jerseys are thinner, more fragile, and tighter than those worn by the pros. Adidas markets its authentic jerseys as “like the one [he] wears for home games” in the case of New York Rangers’ winger Artemi Panarin.
The use of both “authentic” and “official” while the meanings of those terms denote different levels of quality are the reasons the plaintiff brought this suit forward, and Adidas may be contributing to a problem fans have had for years. While not the first in a line of poor moves from the sportswear company, this suit has the potential to redefine the entire apparel market.
Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.