You can always say a logo is your identity. While that might be the case, in hockey, it also could be the team’s sweater (or jersey pending on your vocabulary preference or locale) that further expands your branding.
In the National Hockey League, prior to 1991, only the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets, and Vancouver Canucks had changed drastically their uniforms in the decade before the Sharks arrival. The Minnesota North Stars would also change in 1991, to black and green with a hint of gold. But February 12, 1991 would change the world of NHL marketing and merchandising.
On that date, Sharks Majority Owner, George Gund III, along with Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, officially unveiled the team’s colors and primary logo. When they walked out on stage, it was something that had never been seen in the hockey world.
Oh my the buzz was heard from San Jose to St. John’s, Newfoundland. While teal was only used by the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets at the time and technically speaking, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins rock the aqua. But what is this on the front? A menacing, intimidating, mean black, three gilled shark coming through a triangle biting a hockey stick. It was screaming powerful, aggressive, and strong. All this for a team that didn’t have a player, let alone a roster.
The sports world took notice. The hockey world wanted something like it. The fans wanted anything and everything with the Sharks logo, the fin logo, or the vicious looking shark tooth typeface. For the first two seasons, only the NBA champion Chicago Bulls came close to putting a dent in the sports merchandising hold the San Jose Sharks had.
Other teams in the NHL took notice. Even teams in other sports. When the NFL expanded in 1995, Jacksonville rocked the same teal and black, but added gold instead. Carolina went with more of a light bluish “Carolina Blue”, black, and silver. When MLB expanded in 1993, the Florida Marlins went with teal, black, and silver with much success. The NBA took it on big time as the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies came out with teal and black. The traditional red and blue of the Detroit Pistons scrapped it’s past to jump on the teal and black bandwagon with a hint of red and yellow. It was obvious the other sports leagues took notice of a marketing and merchandising boom.
Remember how the look of NHL teams was unchanged the decade prior? It was a complete 180 degree change the decade after. Teams began to change their looks, as the NHL expanded. Intimidating looks began to creep in. Pittsburgh dropped it’s cute skating penguin, for a sleeker, stronger one. Disney’s Mighty Ducks of Anaheim played off the Sharks’ teal scheme with a mean duck goalie mask logo. Teams began to be bolder years later, as the Washington Capitals scrapped their patriotic red white and blue look for a swooping eagle in a blue, black and bronze uniform. The New York Islanders went overboard by unveiling the Fisherman and a wavy striped jersey that was rejected by fans who yearn for the look that was worn during their dynasty years. The Buffalo Sabres scrapped their traditional circular shield, for a white buffalo head in a black, red and silver scheme that screamed intimidation.
Third jerseys came into the league as a way to expand a team’s branding. Teams played with diagonal stripes, gradients (Vancouver Canucks red jerseys), bright colors (Bruins yellow Winnie the Pooh jerseys), add colors to their look (Los Angeles Burger King jerseys with purple and gold), or even have a variety of colors for their team (Phoenix Coyotes Picasso look with black, brick, sand, cactus green, burnt orange, purple).
Eventually the Sharks themselves would jump on adding a new look, where the Nike designed jersey, eventually became the second generation of jerseys.
Outside a handful of teams, every NHL team either changed logos or jerseys at least twice since the Sharks came into the league. While the Sharks sweater has been altered throughout the years, it all began with the original look that became a merchandising and marketing boom.
This week, The Hockey News ranked the Sharks original jersey #1 all time. Per the October 16th issue the magazine states:
“Though the logo has been altered in recent years, the original shark crest was perfect. San Jose may not have popularized the use of a triangle as background, but the way the shark is springing out is fantastic. The teal blue is definitely bold, and San Jose owns that color (red, on the other hand, could make you think of Chicago, Montreal or Detroit). The secondary logo, a cutting fin on the shoulder, is also an amazing mark. This jersey could have been used for decades and no one would call it out for being dated. Simply put, it’s flawless. The stripes aren’t busy and, in an era where garishness took over, the Sharks kept it classy.”
The jersey was so popular the team decided to bring it back for three games for it’s 25th anniversary season. Here’s hoping they will bring it back for years to come as an alternate jersey.