Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Episode 2 of Innovation in Sports: The NHL Listened, The NBA Told.

Last month I blogged about the NBA not involving their core customers, the players, early in the design process. This was a design change that would impact something that had been in place for more than 30 years. I didn’t know at the time, but the NHL was about to unveil a new design of their own of something that had been in place for more than 40 years: The NHL Uniform.

Would the NHL fare any better? The jury will be out until the 2007-2008 season. That alone speaks volumes. The NHL pushed out the full rollout an entire year based on feedback and to make further modifications. Feedback trumps timelines? Rare. The NBA had a much shorter product lifecycle that focused on technology and missed out on avoiding customer backlash by not involving the players in the process. The NHL on the other hand has iterated over the last 31 months with players on the new uniform. Of course they have their own trademarked technology as the NBA did, but customer feedback trumped technology advances.

For example, the NHL worked with MIT to perform wind tunnel tests to determine what would produce the least amount of drag. After they determined this, they created prototypes for the players to wear. The feedback? The players didn’t like their Jerseys tucked in. They were used to playing with them hanging out their whole lives. So what did the NHL do? They nixed the tucked-in design going against MIT findings.

They listened to a large pool of people as well. Outside of current players they incorporated feedback from the NHL Players Association, general managers, retired stars and even draft picks.

That leaves the NHL to contend with a secondary persona, The Fan. What do fans care about most when it comes to uniforms? The way the logo looks. Interesting enough, they have addressed this as well. Here’s something from an ESPN story by Paul Lukas:

Another issue with those stretch-mesh panels: Will it be a problem to embroider the Rangers' wordmark over them? A Reebok official tells Uni Watch that this shouldn't be a problem, because the company actually has eight to 10 distinct tailoring patterns, so the mesh panels can be moved a bit to accommodate logo stitching.

I really like about stories like these that involve customers that tend to be incredibly superstitious. How do you address that trait?

So why did the NHL take a completely different approach? Is it because they are the underdog, just went through a lockout and couldn’t afford another misstep? Clearly these mandates have to be in place from the highest levels of any organization. It has to be cultural.

Here’s the official Rbk Edge website from Reebok.

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