Monday, December 9, 2013

Open question to Reebok (and other manufacturers) about replica jerseys

There was a re-tweet that crossed my dashboard this morning that bothered me. The original poster deleted his tweet, but somebody else had captured it for posterity, so here it is: 

Yes, it was an offensive fat joke, suggesting that plus-sized people shouldn't be allowed to sport their favorite team's jersey ¹; but there's more to it than the simple lack of tact from the poster.

Several years ago, when Reebok rolled out as the new brand of the NHL, they introduced something they call "jock tags" on the lower-cost replica NHL jerseys. They even list it as a "feature" on the retail pages of and other sites. 

The jock tag is a rectangular piece of material which says "authentic jersey" at the top, with the NHL and Reebok logos below. It also says, in both English and French, "Engineered by Reebok to the exact specifications of the National Hockey League", and there's a spot where you could write your name or player number below that. The most noticeable thing about the jock tag, however, is that the jersey's size is printed in 1/2" tall type.

Why is this tag necessary at all?

Left, authentic player-used Tampa Bay Lightning practice jersey; right, replica Blackhawks fan game jersey

Now, if you see pro hockey players at practice, they do have "jock tags" on the authentic practice jerseys. Perhaps having these sizes easily displayed helps team equipment managers sort through non-personalized hockey gear more easily.  

However, these tags do not exist on the league's official in-game jerseys. 

No jock tags here ... or here ... or - nope, not here, either
The point of "replica jerseys" is that they're supposed to be a lower-cost/more affordable version of the official team jerseys - if ~$140-$160 could be considered "lower" cost. The detailing is mostly the same, but for some reason, these size tags - pardon me, jock tags - are placed on the outside of the replica jerseys, where it detracts from the aesthetics of the jersey.

Now, if you have the $330 to spend on the "authentic" team jerseys from your local fan shop, you're spared having to advertise your shirt size to the whole world. Like the genuine team jerseys, the pricier version of the jersey has no jock tag.

Reebok and the NHL are not alone on this; the NFL (Nike) has begun using these style of tags on fan replica jerseys while not using them on the field. Both of these sports do not tuck their jerseys in. 

So why did Reebok feel it was necessary to put these tags on the outside of the jerseys to begin with? 

Fans aren't interested in advertising the size of their clothing. Women often buy larger-sized jerseys than they would because they prefer or need a looser fit because of their breasts and/or hips. (Women's jerseys help with this, but not for all women.) Small-sized men may be self-conscious for having to purchase a large/XL youth jersey instead of a small adult one. Plus-sized fans of either gender surely aren't thrilled about advertising that they're 3X, 4X, or bigger.

Are there alternatives for fans? Yes, consumers could certainly take a permanent black marker and ink over the area, which they would then repeatedly have to retouch for the life of the jersey. Or they could take nail scissors and snip off the tag, but that could result in potential damage to the jersey, because the tags are sewn on very firmly, or the removed stitching could leave damage to the jersey.

Reebok also makes AHL and ECHL replica jerseys, but they don't put the jock tag on those jerseys.

Sample of non-jock-tagged jerseys: L-R: German league, Nike IIHF/Finland; Reebok AHL Checkers; Reebok ECHL Everblades; CCM LA Kings
If Reebok feels their brand isn't visible enough on the jerseys - and it's already emblazoned on the back below the collar, on one of the sleeves (and on ECHL jerseys, below the 'V' of the front collar), and inside the back collar - they could replace this tag with another embroidered manufacturer's logo that blends into the colors of the jersey.

If it is a case of wanting to prove it is an "authentic" replica and not simply some cheap knock-off, then the jock tag could still contain all the information it currently does, but just not have the size. (Or at the very least, have the font size in a far smaller, less in-your-eye type.)  

But honestly, why the need for the size (jock) tag on the outside of the jersey at all? People's size is a personal matter, and people wearing larger sizes are already subject to plenty of public judgement, scrutiny, criticism, and mockery. (As if wearing sizes on the outside of your gym clothing didn't already give you flashbacks of high school gym class...)

People of all sizes deserve to be able to wear their team's colors without having to advertise their exact size on the front. 

¹ Hockey purists can refer to them as "sweaters" if you like, but since the jerseys are no longer in fact knitted sweaters, we will refer to them as "jerseys".