For 44 years, Kings fans have dutifully worn what the players wear.
From the club’s original, garish, purple-and-gold combo to the minimalist silver-and-black of the Gretzky era, to the hybrid of the two styles the team has rocked since 1998, the sartorial choices of hockey’s most passionate fan base has always been a reflection of the team they adore.
This season, however, it’s the players who will be taking their cue from the fans.
The Kings will usher in a new uniform era that was inspired, in large part, by their fans’ overwhelming support of a design that was originally intended to be an alternate jersey. Because fans – and players - liked the composite retro/progressive look of the third jersey worn during the past two seasons so much, it will now be the Kings’ primary uniform.
“The jersey did a lot better than we expected,” Kings Chief Operating Officer Chris McGowan said of the sweater, which features the letters LA over a crown within an inverted chevron. “We were very cautious when we introduced them, but we were very excited about the response we received from our fans. Our players really liked the jerseys, too, and we got really good feedback when went out on the road.”
With that, a fashion trend was launched.
While Kings’ gear has always been popular among hardcore loyalists, their wardrobe choices have not always gained widespread support. Indeed, the Kings have seemed to change their attire as often as Lady Gaga, sometimes to the same shocking effect.
Who can forget the ’90s alternate jersey with a logo that was decidedly more Burger King than LA King? Then there was all-yellow home uniform worn during the ’70s that never quite did justice to players with the stature of Butch Goring, Marcel Dionne, and Rogie Vachon.
STAPLES Center is known for its playoff din, but the loud uniforms have officially been quieted. This year’s design is understated and tasteful, managing to embrace all the glory of the Gretzky era (the socks are identical to the ones worn by The Great One) while pushing the design meter forward; the piping along the sleeves is a progressive element that gives the uniforms a modernistic feel.
The greatest achievement of the new design stems from its ability to honor the club’s history without being encumbered by it.
Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille scored 668 NHL goals and seemed to wear a different uniform for each one of those tallies during his 14 years with the Kings. When Robitaille broke in to the NHL in 1986, the Kings were still wearing purple-and-gold. Two years later, he helped the team introduce its silver-and-black era. After stints with Pittsburgh and the Rangers, Robitaille returned in 1997, a year before the team donned a silver, black and purple look.
Robitaille has to scour the recesses of his memory to remember every uniform he wore in Los Angeles, but he has no trouble recalling his favorite look.
“I loved the jerseys that we wore back in the ’90s,” Robitaille said of the club’s first embrace of a darker image. “Our new look takes us back to the silver and black, which I love. As a player, those colors give you an attitude and an edge.”
You don’t have to be a Hall-of-Famer, like Robitaille, to be emboldened by the Kings’ new fall ensemble. The sweaters were prominent among fans at STAPLES Center during each of the Kings last two playoff appearances, when the decibel level was piercing.
“We went back and talked to the fans and players,” Robitaille said. “Everybody we talked to really liked that era (late ’80s, early ’90s). I think it gives our team an edge. Dean (Lombardi) and I talked a lot about it and we really liked them. We talked to our players, and they loved them, too. Our fans are so loyal to our team that if the players believe in it, they believe in it, too.”
Making a fashion statement that spoke to both players and fans, honored the club’s heritage, while also being fashion forward was a daunting task. Trying to please everyone often leaves everyone unhappy. But McGowan is confident the Kings have come up with a design that seamlessly accomplishes those lofty goals.
“We wanted to move into the future while embracing our history,” McGowan said. “It’s a tough exercise. We looked at all the elements from all the uniforms in our history. We think this look encapsulated our past but had a modern feel. As an organization, we listen to our fans and we listen to our players. We wanted to provide uniforms that both players and fans will like. We think we have accomplished that goal.”
To help provide a sense of ownership in the Kings among the hometown fans, the letters “LA” are featured more prominently in the sweaters than ever before.
“We play for LA,” McGowan said. “Our team represents LA and we are proud of it.”
The “LA” branding enables the Kings to capitalize on the global familiarity of two letters.
“I think LA is the only city in North America where you can say the two letters and everyone knows where you are talking about,” Robitaille said. “You see NY written, but people don’t say it. I think LA is unique in that regard.”
LA is also unique in its loyalty to the Kings.
“There is no city like it anywhere in hockey,” Robitaille said. “We didn’t make the playoffs for eight years and we were still averaging 16,000 fans every night.”
That loyalty, Robitaille says, deserves payback. Giving the fans a stylish jersey they can be proud to wear is one way to reward them, but Robitaille says there is another way to guarantee the new jerseys are fashionable.
“At the end of the day,” Robitaille said, “We need to win. Winning is the biggest thing we can do to make these uniforms special. Our fans have followed us loyally and they deserve a winner.”
Last year’s primary jersey will become the Kings’ alternate sweater, worn on handful of occasions this year.
The Kings will also wear their purple-and-gold vintage jerseys three times this season, in conjunction with the return of a trio of the organizations more memorable players.
“Our fans really love the vintage nights and we will wear the vintage uniforms when we honor Bernie Nicholls (Dec. 10), Daryl Evans (Jan. 2), and Charlie Simmer (Feb. 18),” McGowan said.
Every other night, the Kings will wear jerseys that honor their fans. And vice versa.
To purchase the new Kings jerseys – including the brand new white road jerseys, visit TEAM LA on-line at TEAMLAstore.com or stop by the store on your next visit to STAPLES Center.