When I heard about the possibility and then the truth of an official National Hockey League store opening in New York City, I was thrilled. I had always seen how other professional sports league had done it or was also in the planning stages, so I had wondered what the hell the NHL was waiting for. Nine years ago, the National Basketball Association had opened their NBA Store just six blocks to the north of where the NHL has theirs and it has been a successful venture so far.
The NHL Powered by Reebok Store had its grand opening last Friday and it did not go without some kind of fanfare. It had to be. With ideas and any plans that hopefully the NHL can deliver to help expand its brand across the United States and around the world, having a centralized place where fans can buy official gear is a start. Not everyone has the opportunity to buy such merchandise at shop.nhl.com from their computer, so opening this store in what some may consider as the fashion and shopping capital of the world, it had to be done. It is a no-brainer.
In a partnership with Reebok, the NHL outfitted all 30 of its teams with the new RBK Edge uniforms and now has this joint venture. But it has to be more than just a store. At least when I go there, I want to be wowed, something that screams hockey and screams the NHL. It has to have me want to come back again and again. From merchandise to interactive events and things to do while within its confines, it must achieve that.
"The NHL Powered by Reebok store will serve as a year-round showcase for the sport of hockey and will bring the game to life through a multi-sensory experience," NHL Executive Vice President of Marketing Brian Jennings told NHL.com writer Evan Grossman prior to the grand opening. "We are excited to partner with Reebok because of their immense retail experience. Together, we have produced a store that will undoubtedly become a must-see destination for hockey fans worldwide."
We hockey fans can only hope so, especially the diehards.
Given there isn't enough airtime on local radio stations to cover the NHL as it should (you won't have that problem in Toronto though), at least fans can tune in during the season to NHL Live weekday afternoons from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM on XM Radio channel 204 or listen via NHL.com. The league built a studio at the store site, so patrons certainly can enjoy seeing show hosts Don LaGreca and E.J. Hradek overlook the store floor.
With the National Hockey League offices located in New York City, this was a logical choice to have the NHL Powered by Reebok Store located in the very same building as well (now called under the umbrella the NHL's "world headquarters") . This is not just a shopping and entertainment mecca, the largest metropolis in the United States sees more than its fair share of tourists from across the globe. I understand that this sport and league thrives exceptionally well north of the border in Canada, but in order to grow the game and make the 2005 lockout worth it, not only does the game itself, promotions and marketing the league have to be great, so does a destination where fans can enjoy an memorable experience and then go home happy.
"We all know New York City is great for hockey," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the crowd gathered outside the store located at the corner of 6th Avenue and 47th Street during the grand opening festivities. "This is a destination for all visitors to New York, not just hockey fans."
In addition to a recap of an historic October 12th for the league, NHL.com's Evan Grossman did a nice job in capturing some of the festivities on video. Among the events to celebrate the grand opening was the appearance of the Stanley Cup (now how could it not be there?), NHL greats in Glenn Anderson, Rick Middleton, Butch Goring and Ken Daneyko as well as Bruce Driver and Eric Cairns signing autographs for fans. Recently retired referee Paul Stewart was also on hand to greet patrons. But what I think was nice touch (but to others may think it was corny, who knows) was the arrival of a custom-painted Zamboni travelling down 6th Avenue to make its way to the store front. The NHL even had conducted an "Unlock your NHL Dreams" sweepstakes where the grand prize was a trip to the upcoming 2008 NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta.
Overall, this is hopefully a start of good things to come for the National Hockey League. We saw the new NHL.com add some nice features to their official web site, the addition of NHL Center Ice Online where you can watch multiple games at once from anywhere with your online subscription, plus the arrival of NHL Network on televisions across the United States (it is about time!). As far as the network goes, hopefully it'll evolve into something more than just a feed of its programming from Canada. The NHL Powered by Reebok Store should give us all a great new option to fulfill our hockey fix.