As Adidas skates away from its relationship with the NHL, the apparel giant faces another federal lawsuit over the authenticity of jerseys it sells to hockey fans.
On July 26, a New Yorker named Ryan Smith filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. Smith contends that Adidas is fraudulently misleading consumers into believing that they are buying “authentic” jerseys. Consumers, his complaint charges, are expecting “they are purchasing jerseys identical to those worn on the ice by NHL players.”
The complaint refers to an explainer by Dick’s Sporting Goods that defines an “authentic” hockey jersey as “the on-ice apparel worn by your favorite professional team.” A fight strap, the explainer notes, serves as an “easy way to identify authentic hockey jerseys.” In contrast, “official” and “replica” hockey jerseys are inferior.
Smith cites examples of “authentic” Adidas hockey jerseys that include a fight-strap, which is designed to prevent the jersey from being pulled over a player’s head during a fight. Smith says the fight-strap used in the jerseys sold to consumers is of a lesser quality than one used in games. “There is no reason to include a fight strap on a jersey,” the complaint charges, “that is not meant to be worn on-ice, because this is solely a utilitarian feature relevant to being on skates in a hockey fight.”
Smith’s lawsuit closely resembles one brought four months ago in a Florida federal court. David Inouye insists that Adidas is wrongfully marketing jerseys as “authentic” when they fall short of that classification. The Inouye lawsuit emphasizes that Fanatics also identifies the jerseys as “authentic.”
Both lawsuits seek to become class actions on behalf of consumers who purchased these jerseys, and both plaintiffs are represented by attorney Spencer Sheehan of Sheehan and Associates in New York.
Sportico has obtained a motion to dismiss filed by attorneys for Adidas last month in the Florida case. Stanton Gallegos and Matthew Levin contend the lawsuit fails to allege Adidas broke the law, saying in the motion that the “plaintiff himself states that ‘authentic’ means something that is ‘not false or copied, or genuine, as opposed to counterfeit,’ and that adidas is the ‘official manufacturer of NHL jersey.’”
The motion goes on to note how Inouye draws attention to Adidas referring “to the NHL jerseys made by the official manufacturer of NHL jerseys as being genuine, as opposed to false or counterfeit.” The alleged legal defect in Inouye’s case, Adidas’ attorneys contend, is “there is nothing false or misleading about that statement. It is completely true. An officially licensed and manufactured product is, by definition, not false or counterfeit.”
As Adidas defends its NHL jersey sales in court, the company and the NHL are parting ways.
“The NHL and adidas,” the two shared in a statement to Sportico, “confirm that the NHL-adidas partnership will not continue following the expiration of the current agreement after the 2023-24 NHL season. The NHL and adidas look forward to continuing to work closely together over the next 2 years and to a smooth transition to the new authentic NHL uniform supplier, which will be announced by the NHL at the appropriate time.”
Like many other major U.S. leagues, the NHL sells multiple tiers of jerseys as part of a complex three-way relationship with a big apparel brand (in this case Adidas) and Fanatics. The “authentic” jerseys are made by Adidas and sell for $230. Fanatics makes a “breakaway” jersey at $169, plus a mass-market version that sells at a lower price point.
While this may look to consumers like the same set-up as the NFL and MLB—where the authentic jerseys bear the Nike logo and the lower tiers have Fanatics branding—there is one major difference. In the NHL, Adidas manufactures those authentic jerseys itself. In those other leagues, Fanatics is making all the jerseys, even the authentic ones that carry Nike’s logo.