The San Jose Sharks won't play their first exhibition game until Sept. 13, but they are already challenging the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, the NHL's marketing heavyweights.
Hockey fans all over North America are buying Sharks merchandise, which is, at times, in short supply.
"The biggest surprise to me so far is that it's selling in Canada and in markets where there are teams in all sports," says Matt Levine, the Sharks' executive vice president of business operations. Levine, who spent 19 years as a sports franchise consultant before joining the Sharks, says Canadian fans are traditionally reluctant to buy items from U.S.-based NHL teams.
But the new team's eye-catching logo -- which shows a shark breaking a hockey stick in two in its jaws -- and unusual colors have caught the fancy of other teams' fans.
According to Levine, Sharks merchandise is for sale at the Kings' stores ("They can't keep it in stock"), at Madison Square Garden in New York and at the Oakland Coliseum during Athletics games ("They figure it's so hot, why not make a buck on it").
Once the nickname was set, the team chose its colors. Levine says they wanted the colors to relate the name or the region, so they were looking at shades of burgundy and colors related to water.
Prototype jerseys were made up and put on view for season ticket-holders.
"People [told us they] wanted colors that were their own, not some other franchise's," says Levine. "That led us to look real hard at teal," which was only used by the NBA's Charlotte Hornets.
But, even after management was pretty much sold on the combination of teal, gray, white and black, in true '90s style, there was a screen test. Since most NHL games are televised, the Sharks wanted their uniforms to look good on the ice, under the lights. So, before a game at Madison Square Garden last winter, the uniforms were tested and passed with flying colors.
But while being the only hockey team in teal gives Sharks merchandise a certain appeal, it has created a problem.
"With only two teams in teal," says Levine, "these licensees don't have a lot of teal material in stock."
That has led to shortages of some items, and the Sharks have taken the extraordinary step of going to the manufacturers and committing to a certain volume of teal material a year in advance, when, according to Levine, the usual advance commitment is a month or two.
The team logos took 13 months to develop.
"We spent a lot of time being thorough in the design of the family of logos," says Levine. The idea was to get something that would appeal to the players as well as fans of all ages.
The shark-and-stick logo was designed by Californian Terry Smith, who also designed the team's shoulder patch, which features a fin going through water. The team's logotype -- the word "Sharks" in letters that resemble shark's teeth -- was conceived by Mark Blatt, another Californian.
To see what all the fuss is about, fans can write for a catalog: San Jose Sharks, Merchandise Department, 10 Almaden Blvd., Suite 600, San Jose, Calif. 95113.
Saturday, baseball card show, Cromwell Bridge Holiday Inn, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 893-0013.
Aug. 3, baseball card show, Days Hotel, Timonium, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 866-3366.
Aug. 4, baseball card show, Towson Quality Inn, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Aug. 17, baseball card show, Econolodge, 5801 Baltimore National Pike, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 866-3366.