The ’90s were a great time for hockey. These were the days when third sweaters were initiated, the FoxTrax Glow puck floated through the television, and Roller Hockey International was still a thing. I was young when hockey on its way to becoming a top four sport in the United States. And Nike took notice of that. They bought Canstar, the parent company of Bauer, in 1994, hoping to grab onto the money boat before other companies realized the value of the sport.
One of the things I remember most about ’90s hockey is the Nike commercials. My mom hated hockey, and even she cracked up when faced with this commercial, featuring a fictional French-Canadian goalie driving a cab, or this one (and yes, that’s Mac from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” in line), with an ex-goalie serving burgers. They were funny, and not only funny, but in a way that gently poked fun of the NHL. Nike brought a whole new audience to the sport: an audience that appreciated good comedy.
The commercials weren’t just funny. When Nike signed a deal with Sergei Fedorov, a Soviet Union expat who defected to join the Red Wings, they used him in funny roles, such as this compilation of his falls. But he also helped them design and promote a whole line of white skates, appearing in commercials, and later on ice wearing them and associating them with his dramatic flair.
Nike, at the time (if you can believe it) only a U.S. footwear company, actually used hockey to promote themselves as a worldwide sports brand. They remained a big part of hockey, as an athletic gear provider and a sponsor, until 2007.
In 2007, when the hockey buzz of the ’90s was all but over, Nike decided to sell Nike Bauer and end its relationship with the hockey industry. Some people believe that Nike just didn’t market their skates well, while others think they priced themselves out of the market. Their last-designed skate sold for $889 at retail stores. The most likely reason they cut ties is that hockey’s popularity went on a sharp decline during the early 2000s, and they no longer saw the hockey fan base as profitable.
I get a twinge of nostalgia every time I watch the old Nike hockey commercials. They make me think of my childhood and the excitement I felt watching the greats like Mike Modano and Brett Hull. But hockey popularity is on the rise again in the U.S., so maybe this generations of stars and sponsors will merge to create something like what Nike and the NHL had.
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