NHL Teams and Convenience Stores Understand the Future of Promo Apparel is More Fashionable - Do You?
The apparel promotion has evolved. Simply printing a logo on a boxy, itchy T-shirt isn't going to cut it anymore.
And it's not just like it's high-end brands looking to provide apparel that matches its high-end aesthetic. Everything from fast food restaurants, convenience stores, museums and liquor brands have appealed to the prevalence of streetwear and designer fashion.
In professional sports, cheap T-shirts have been shot out of cannons by strange costume characters for decades. But teams have started looking at ways to add some permanence and value to their branded merchandise. The latest example comes from Arizona, where the NHL's Arizona Coyotes just appointed fashion designer Rhuigi Villaseñor as the franchise's creative strategist. In this position, he will design an exclusive line of apparel, including a special-edition jersey, for the upcoming season.
"We've really re-envisioned how we're going to touch our fans and our consumers," Alex Meruelo Jr., chief brand officer for the Coyotes, told ESPN. "We're not creating clothing or merchandise or jerseys for the traditional sports fan. We're trying to create a real brand within the Coyotes, with real streetwear stuff. This isn't something that you just wear to games; this is stuff that you would wear to go eat at a restaurant or go to the club. That was the vision behind it."
The key part of that quote is where Meruelo said that the franchise is a brand itself, rather than just a sports team that occasionally advertises on throwaway apparel. It needs to transcend the arena, and have a place in every part of life. It could also appeal to non-hockey fans, and get them curious about the team.
The line will feature T-shirts, caps and sweatshirts, with faded looks, desert motifs and replacing Villaseñor's Rhude brand "R" logo with an "AZ."
"It's a forward-thinking effort," Coyotes president and CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez told ESPN. "It's really building something that is more than just a hockey jersey or hockey merchandise, but trying to engage the fans in waiting, which is really core to our vision."
The Coyotes aren't revolutionary in this endeavor. Designer apparel has had a place in professional sports before. Most recently, Ralph Lauren collaborated with Major League Baseball teams for special apparel.
“It’s really all about being the first person who hops in the pool to see if it’s cold," Villaseñor told Complex. "If it’s not, we all jump in. To me, right now, we’re jumping in a pool that’s already warm. If someone doesn’t see that it’s warm, that’s crazy. You’ll start to see other projects within the hockey field that are unprecedented. All it takes is one good project to pop. I think it’ll become the new igniter.”
It's honestly on par with what brands in service industries have been doing lately. They recognize that they need to go quality over quantity—sometimes to a fault, relying on the exclusivity cool factor of apparel capsules—with their branded merchandise.
Sports teams will always have built-in audiences who will accept a free T-shirt regardless of its quality or design (or its delivery system). But, they shouldn't be the primary focus all the time. Any business owner would tell you that the goal is to grow. For a sports team, restaurant or store, you need to capture the spirit of the brand and show it to people who might not have any interest at first, and convince them that you have a place in their lives.
What the Coyotes are doing shows that the franchise understands that sports teams are cultural signifiers. People use them to showcase their pride in where they live or where they grew up, even if they've never watched a single game. You think everyone who wears a Yankees hat has season tickets?
This trend also illustrates that just about any brand could become a fashionable one if executed well. Did anyone think 7-Eleven would be a hot apparel brand in 2022? Probably not, but here we are!
Promotional products distributors and apparel decorators can keep this in mind when they're working with their clients, whether they're a local car dealership, a school, a gym — you name it. If it has a logo, it can be turned into a cool piece of apparel.
As this trend continues, buyer habits will change, and people won't be as keen on accepting what they see as "throwaway" merchandise, or a T-shirt that's going to fall apart after one wash.
It doesn't have to be created by a high-end designer, but maybe it should look and feel like it was.