Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hartford Whaler Jerseys Now Available, But At What Cost?

This week, for the first time since 1997, fresh Hartford Whalers jerseys are hitting store shelves. Apparently, the Hartford Whalers trademark expired this summer. Hats, t-shirts, and jackets are also being purchased all over the United States, Canada, and beyond. The Whaler logo will be seen in countless hockey arenas this year, reminding us all of the Hartford Whalers' legacy. This is a great thing right?

It's actually a huge dissapointment for Hartford hockey. It's an opportunity wasted. The State of Connecticut, owner of the rights for the past 11 years, has done nothing with them, despite a high demand for merchandise and a retro sporting gear trend. These rights could have been sold and the proceeds could have gone into a fund to help build a new arena in Hartford. Heck, even the money going into the General Fund would have been a better option than doing nothing.

The second dissapointment is that Larry Gottesdiener, who pledged his desire to bring back the NHL to Hartford, wasted this opportunity as well. In 2007, three groups bid to run the Hartford Civic Center and with it, professional hockey in Hartford. Howard Baldwin pushed a plan to buy the Hartford Wolf Pack, currently owned by the rival New York Rangers, and run an AHL version of the Hartford Whalers. He would have sold Hartford Whalers gear, and plenty would have sold. That money would have stayed in Connecticut would have helped his plan to bring the NHL back.

Instead, Larry Gottesdiener's Northland/AEG partnership was chosen. Larry, despite having told Whaler fans he agreed with them that having the New York Rangers controlling the Civic Center was a conflict of interest, extended the Rangers' lease for five years and the Wolf Pack have remained in Hartford. The demand for Wolf Pack merchandise is not anywhere close to the demand that exists for Hartford Whalers gear. In fact Puck Daddy reports that CCM (a division of Reebok)'s Director of Merchandising for the NHL Keith Leach said:

"In the past Reebok has had huge demand for it in the market place by consumers. Therefore Reebok just got cleared by the League, who manages the rights to this jersey, to offer it as a replica jersey to the public. I am told it should start to show up at retailers between Nov. 2009 and March 2010."

Had there been a minor league Hartford Whalers, the gear sold around the continent would have been astronomically larger than the amount of Wolf Pack gear sold. The Rangers are content to forgo the memory of the Hartford Whalers and merchandise sales to keep the Wolf Pack wearing faux-Rangers jerseys in hopes that Connecticut becomes Rangers territory. It won't, but that's their business plan anyway and they're sticking to it.

Instead of either the state or a local hockey team owner getting the proceeds from the sales of Hartford Whalers merchandise, nobody is getting the proceeds. The trademark is null and void, and the manufacturers and retailers pocket all the money. A Hartford Whalers jersey that costs pennies to make is sold for $119.99, the same price a Buffalo Sabres jersey is sold for, despite the fact that a portion of that Sabres jersey sale goes back to the Sabres organization.

Enjoy wearing the new Whalers jerseys, hats, shirts and jackets though. Just remember that when someday, hopefully, a Hartford Whalers team hits the ice again, the new Whalers will need you to buy some new merchandise from them, too.

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