Earlier this week, sportswear manufacturing giant Adidas, currently the contract producer of National Hockey League jerseys as well as exclusive kit producers for international soccer powerhouses Manchester United FC, AFC Ajax and Juventus FC , became the target of a bogus publicity lawsuit in the state of Florida (from ‘Adidas NHL Jersey Lawsuit Claims ‘Authentic’ is Anything But’ Michael McCann/Eben Novy-Williams. Sportico. 04/20/2022). In the 20-page proposal, the plaintiff alleges that the company knowingly misrepresented what it constitutes as “authentic” apparel, particularly regarding the quality of NHL jerseys.
The lawsuit claims Adidas relied on a policy of “omissions, ambiguities, half-truths, [and] false representations” in order to market authentic jerseys which are indeed not authentic. While the lawsuit itself is still being debated in court, it contradicts the pervasive problems fans have had finding authentic clothing that dates back years.
Adidas lawsuit is a continuation of what fans are already encountering with replica purchases
Regardless of the final decision in Adidas’ lawsuit, it highlights the experience of many fans trying to purchase jerseys and other items on the secondary market. The NHL leased ‘replica’ jersey production to Fanatics in 2016, agreeing to a historic 16-year contract that runs until 2032. While initially billed as a breakthrough that would allow greater access to top players’ jerseys and would cut back on production time, the company has since been criticized for what some consider shoddy craftsmanship and a relatively remarkable level of inconsistency.
The quality of fanatics, claims AJ Strong of TealTown USA, alone drives the market for replica jerseys and apparel. The iron-on logo, name and number began to fade from a player’s t-shirt after just one wash. The brand also doesn’t have a system to guarantee product accuracy, Strong says, noting that they’ve sold San Jose Sharks t-shirts in completely different shades of teal. Such quality issues are not limited to NHL products. In fact, Fanatics has angered so many fans that there is now a Twitter account with hundreds of followers dedicated to publicizing fans’ dissatisfaction with the brand. Orders were cancelled, shirts and sweaters incorrectly sized, logos and wordmarks printed incorrectly, and fans had to wait months to receive orders.
Adidas intentionally obscures the true nature of the product with vague and lucid terms
The structure of the NHL’s brand agreement with Adidas allows the former to produce jerseys worn on the ice by NHL players as well as “authentic” jerseys sold in-store and online. It is, however, the terminology that the plaintiff in the trial has challenged. The vague terminology used by sportswear companies has already been highlighted, with authorized third-party sellers like Dick’s Sporting Goods providing guides for fans and defining what terms mean.
According to the glossary, “authentic” means “the on-ice apparel worn by your favorite professional team”, while “official” jerseys are “a great budget choice for fans who want a quality jersey suitable for the bleachers” and are often of inferior quality. . “Official” jerseys are often “lighter fabric with less technology options”.
The lowest level jerseys are classified as “replicas” which “use[s] lower quality fabrics and usually in a looser fit. The plaintiff claims that the differences between Adidas jerseys that can be purchased online and those worn by NHL players lie in the material, stitching and construction of the jerseys themselves. Mainly, the so-called authentic jerseys are thinner, flimsier and tighter than those worn by the pros. Adidas markets its authentic jerseys as “like the one [he] door for home games” in the case of New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin.
The use of both “authentic” and “official”, when the meaning of these terms denotes different levels of quality, is the reason why the plaintiff brought this action, and Adidas could contribute to a problem that fans have had for years. While not the first in a series of bad deeds from the sportswear company, this suit has the potential to redefine the entire apparel market.